DUBAI // The global jewel heist syndicate known as the Pink Panther Gang has stolen more than Dh1.5 billion worth of gems in 90 robberies over more than 20 years - and Dubai police have brought Interpol one step closer to tracking them down.
The link to trapping the elusive thieves came in an investigation into a daring jewel robbery in Wafi City four years ago, the head of Interpol said yesterday.
Two stolen Audi A8s were driven through the glass facade of Wafi City mall on April 15, 2007. The cars stopped outside the House of Graff jewellers and the thieves stole diamonds worth an estimated Dh14.7million at gunpoint before speeding away.
Investigators in Dubai sent DNA samples from the crime scene to Interpol - and the link was made.
"If it were not for the great investigative work of Dubai Police and their sharing of evidence with us, we would not have been able to break the Pink Panther case the way that we have," Ronald Noble, the Interpol secretary general, said yesterday.
Mr Noble said Interpol had no idea the Pink Panther Gang were operating globally until the Wafi robbery. Originally the investigation was focused only in Europe, but the evidence provided by Dubai Police changed that.
"Dubai Police sent four DNA specimens to Interpol and two of those were matched with specimens we received from Liechtenstein. Suddenly we knew we no longer had just a European crime group but a global organised operation," Mr Noble said.
"Later, we were able to link another robbery that occurred in Tokyo and we found out that the first robbery they committed was in the US, in Hawaii, in 1990."
The gang, said to have ties to organised crime in Serbia, has since been linked to 90 jewellery robberies around the world and the theft of gems estimated to be worth more than Dh1.5 billion.
The latest breakthrough in the Pink Panther investigation came two weeks ago, with the arrest at a Serbia and Montenegro border checkpoint of a 24-year-old Serb national wanted by Austrian authorities for the 2008 hold-up of a jewellers in Vienna.
Mr Noble said Interpol launched a dedicated task force in response to the Wafi investigation findings. The international investigation team is made up of 76 members from 26 countries.
The Pink Panther Operational Working Group is holding its fifth collaborative meeting in Dubai this week.
Interpol’s investigation into the gang suggests this is an unusual crime syndicate that is loosely organised, with people coming and going depending on the robbery being planned.
The gang’s key members are thought to come from Serbia and Montenegro. They target upmarket jewellers and usually take less than a minute to carry out their robberies. They have targeted at least 35 countries, including Monaco, France and Switzerland, and have used violence or the threat of violence to carry out their robberies.
“They do not have one boss with people working below him, and that makes them a challenge to investigate. That’s why international police co-operation is so important and this is the reason we have this meeting to share more intelligence,” said Mr Noble.
The Interpol chief said the Wafi City investigation was one of several successful such efforts.
“Dubai Police has established itself as one of the leading police investigative organisations in the world,” said Mr Noble. “The message Dubai Police has sent to criminals is ‘just avoid Dubai’.”
Major Gen Khamis Mattar al Mazeina, the deputy head of Dubai Police and head of CID at the time of the investigation, said the force had to develop their investigation skills and methods to a high level because of Dubai’s rapid growth.
“New types of crimes were occurring in the country because of the boom, and so we had to develop our methods to meet the new challenges,” he said.