x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Dubai's Pink Panthers return but not on CCTV

Gang behind one of most audacious jewellery thefts in history captured in documentary.

Havana Marking, the filmmaker behind the documentary, said some gang members wished to leave their days of crime behind them for fear that someone would be killed. Before the Dubai robbery, the gang had committed theft valued at a quarter of a billion dollars.
Havana Marking, the filmmaker behind the documentary, said some gang members wished to leave their days of crime behind them for fear that someone would be killed. Before the Dubai robbery, the gang had committed theft valued at a quarter of a billion dollars.

DUBAI // The stolen Audis burst through the glass doors of Wafi Mall. Tyres squealed across the marble corridors before coming to a stop outside Graff jewellery store.

There, three men used hammers to smash through a glass display cabinet and gain entry to the store before gathering up jewels worth Dh14.7 million in their black sacks.

Seconds later, the robbers returned calmly to the vehicles, where a fourth accomplice, a female, was waiting, and sped off into the night. They remain at large.

The jewellery heist was one of the most audacious in history, but the so-called Pink Panther gang only took two minutes to complete their raid at 9.30pm on April 15, 2007.

Now, their Hollywood-style escapade will be replayed on the silver screen thanks to documentary filmmaker Havana Marking.

Smash and Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers is a Dh2.8 million production that has taken Ms Marking two years to complete.

"I spoke to a number of Panthers for the film," said Ms Marking, who conducted telephone interviews with some of the gang members. "Some said that they want to return to a normal life because they do not want their children to get into what they do. They said that they cannot continue without someone getting killed."

She described the Panthers as loosely connected individuals who do not form a gang in the traditional sense. "But their planning method is impeccable, and they always manage to escape," she said. "I first read a story about them in The New Yorker and learnt about their background - coming from the Balkans during the war. I realised that their story has all the elements: moral issues, excitement and history."

Filming took place in New York, London, Paris, Geneva and Tokyo, and her crew also spent time in Serbia and Montenegro.

Ms Marking said the Panthers were fairly popular in Serbia, where they were viewed as folk heroes.

"Their history dates back to the Balkan war. They come from an extraordinary region that has had an explosion of organised crime," she said."They have no victims and only steal diamonds to sell to a specific seller immediately. The gang only dealt in cut diamonds and always had a pre-arranged buyer."

The bulk of the sale of their items takes place in Belgium, she said.

This week, the film crew was in Dubai, interviewing those involved in the investigation of the Wafi robbery.

"The Dubai story is very interesting in the history of the Panthers," said Ms Marking. "The network, up until then, had committed thefts valued at a quarter of a billion dollars."

Previous robberies took place in Switzerland, Tokyo and London.

"Their robbery here played a pivotal role in the various international police agencies coming to understand their network and how they operated," she said.

Not only was their raid caught on camera, but police were able to recover the stolen jewels.

During filming this week Ms Marking interviewed the Dubai Police Chief, Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim, as well as his deputy, Maj Gen Khamis Mattar Al Mazeina, who was the chief of CID at the time of the robbery.

"We know who they are and we have been following all their movements," said Maj Gen Al Mazeina during his interview with Ms Marking, "but we are waiting for all the necessary international legal work to go ahead before we take action."

The documentary has been entered for consideration at the Cannes Film Festival this summer before its worldwide theatrical release in autumn.

"We also want to showcase the film this year at the Dubai Film Festival and hope to release it to the cinemas locally," she said.

Smash and Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers is funded by the BBC, HBO, Franco-German TV network ARTE and the British Film Institute.

amustafa@thenational.ae

Visit http://tinyurl.com/8xawptk to view the trailer

* This article was altered on February 16 to correctly attribute the quote of Major General Khamis Mattar Al Mazeina. We previously attributed the quote to Lt Gen Tamim.