“Police escort: Tell me, inspector – Signor Phantom – all those robberies. How did you ever manage it?

Inspector Jacques Clouseau: Well, you know… it wasn’t easy.

 Inspector Jacques Clouseau:  At times like this, I wish I was but a simple peasant.”

Pink Panther [1963]

Ahhhh…summer time in the French Riviera, beautiful weather, perfect beaches, fine dining, fabulous clubs, casinos and yachting. And whilst the rich and famous enjoyed all the joys and extravagance of French glitz and slept soundly in their luxurious hotel beds, in the meantime there was a dangerous type of criminal on the prowl…the Pink Panther who struck again and again and again with a spate of jewellery robberies at the top end jewellery stores.

In May, the Pink Panthers brazenly stole the limelight from the Hollywood stars, striking in Cannes during the Film Festival. Whilst media attention focussed on the red carpet, Panthers hacked a hotel room safe from the wall of a jewellers working for Swiss jewellery company Chopard stealing gems worth £650,000 that reportedly were to be worn by model Cara Delevingne and Great Gatsby star Carey Mulligan.

A few days later, a £1.6million necklace was stolen at a film industry party just down the coast at the exclusive resort of Cap d’Antibes.

Then in July, one lone panther coolly marched into the Carlton Cannes Hotel, threatened hotel staff with an automatic pistol then stole £88 million worth of diamonds and gems from a Leviev Diamonds exhibition being held in the hotel lobby.

Who are these Pink Panthers? Not heard of them? Probably the most successful diamond thieving gang in history who have committed about 340 robberies stealing jewels worth 300 million Euros.

Shot to infamy in 2003, with an audacious raid on Graff jewellers, in London. According to the Mirror, they raided this shop wearing wigs, designer suits and brollies. Two of the Panthers posed as exclusive clients, persuaded the guards into opening the doors and once they gained access pulled a Magnum handgun and proceeded to carefully select 47 items worth £23 million.

Their biggest single prize so far is the Comtesse de Vendome, a 116-diamond necklace stolen from a jewellery store in Tokyo in 2004 and valued at £20million.

The Pink Panthers are thoroughly modern day robbers who are described by Interpol as being more like Al-Qaeda– a loose affiliation between the groups, more of a network of small criminal cells. Made up of approximately 200 ex-soldiers from the Balkans, they are criminals that operate with extraordinary sophistication and precision who dare to take on big and bold stunts. They plan as if they were undertaking a military operation.

Also to the extent that they use very specific vehicles as their getaway cars and have exacting methods that allow them to smash and grab then disappear within seconds.

In a 2007 in an attack on a Dubai mall, the Panthers used special audis, shipped in for the raid, with which they rammed the shopping mall, smashing through the windows, then with screaming tyres raced within the mall to the Graff jewellery store, stole the jewels and managed to escape down the free way in rush hour knowing the police would get stuck in the opposite lane. Within 2 minutes they had calmly sped off with a get-away haul worth £1.9million.

In 2005 in another £2million gems raid, the Pink Panthers used a ­speedboat to escape from Saint-Tropez whilst the French police were stuck in a Riviera traffic jam.

They blend so well that it is difficult to discover any scouting pre attack. They have women in their gangs, in fact the women play a rather important role – they have to be smart, beautiful and love money! They often play the role of the extremely wealthy potential customer of high end jewellery and watches.

Dressed to the nines they would scan the jewellery shops and then record with perfect detail layouts of the shops that would then be sketched up into detailed floor plans for use in the planned robbery.

The Pink Panthers are the stuff of films hence the rather apt name they have been given and they have been on a crime spree since 2000 to the extent that several international police forces now work together in order to catch them.

As the new criminal emerges, so does the modern detective, having to develop even more advanced methods to catch these men.

And catching them they are, since 2007 189 Panthers have been caught and 59 were caught last year.

Is the new generation of Pink panther getting sloppy?

Latest news articles on recent activity report robbers dropping guns, shooting at police, leaving prints and DNA. In one case, in dramatically torching their get-away car, the Panthers forgot to open a window to give oxygen to the fire, thus DNA was preserved and the robbers were caught.  

Evolving as part of the story and perhaps even more interesting are the new modern types of insurance investigators; insurance companies want to seek the recovery of as much of the stolen jewellery as possible to avoid paying out claims. A very delicate balancing act is played here – where sums of money are offered as rewards for information to recover the goods, these investigators need to be careful not to make payments to the gang members who are directly responsible for the thefts.  

Watch this space for more blog stories on these criminals.

Jessica Franses