x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Two linked with Dubai jewel heist arrested

Suspects linked with at least a dozen armed robberies, including a 11.2-million-euro heist in Dubai are arrested.

DUBAI // DNA evidence left at the scene of Dubai's biggest-ever robbery last year has helped lead to the arrests in Europe of two more members of an international criminal gang as they were apparently planning another jewellery heist. The two men from the Balkans are believed to belong to a gang known as the "Pink Panthers", whose raid on a jewellery store in Wafi City last year netted goods worth millions of dirhams. It was one of a series of multimillion-dollar raids the gang has allegedly carried out in Dubai, Switzerland, Monaco and Liechtenstein. The masked robbers made off with Dh14 million (US$3.8m) worth of jewels after crashing two cars through the doors of the mall and breaking into the Graff jewellery store on the evening of April 15, 2007. The robbery, which was captured on CCTV cameras, raised questions about the security of Dubai's shopping centres. Only one member of the Wafi City gang has so far been arrested, tried and sentenced - a 33-year-old Serbian businessman who was jailed for 10 years for his part in the coup. Another man was acquitted. The latest arrests were made in Monaco last Wednesday when a policeman called to an innocuous traffic incident recognised a 27-year-old Serb and a 31-year-old Bosnian as suspects linked to a June 2007 jewel robbery in the Mediterranean principality. DNA discovered at that crime scene was found to match traces left at previous scenes, including Wafi City, which had been stored on Interpol's global database. A spokesman for the Dubai Police criminal investigation department said despite the gang's attempts to destroy forensic evidence by burning the cars used in the Wafi City robbery, traces of DNA were found in the vehicles and at the scene. This was the key to tracking down the gang members after they fled the UAE, he said. "Dubai Police have always co-operated with Interpol, and evidence provided by us helped close the net on the suspects responsible for breaking into Wafi City and robbing the jewellery store," the spokesman said today. "They attempted to burn the two cars they used in the robbery, but DNA evidence was still left behind." Both the cars were stolen; one had a Dubai registration plate and the other was registered in Abu Dhabi, Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim, the head of the Dubai Police said at the time. Christophe Haget, chief of investigations at the Monaco police force, said the latest arrests were only made possible by the "hard work of identification and analysis done at an international level". But he added: "You could say we got lucky." According to police, one of the arrested men is a senior member of the gang who took part in the Dubai robbery. It is not yet clear whether the second gang member was directly involved. The pair have been linked to at least seven robberies in Switzerland that netted US$2.4m (Dh8.8m) since 2005, and another in Liechtenstein in 2006. The gang is estimated to have cost jewellers around the world more than €110m million (Dh529m) in just under a decade. The Dubai Police spokesman said he expected the pair to be tried in Switzerland or Liechtenstein on numerous charges of armed robbery. They are currently being held in Monaco for travelling on forged documents. Many more members of the gang, which is thought to involve up to 200 people mainly from the former Yugoslavia, are still at large. Thirty are believed to be behind bars. Interpol set up a Pink Panther unit in July 2007 in response to the gang's increasingly lucrative crime spree. British police gave the gang its nickname after finding a blue diamond ring hidden in a jar of face cream, like the the Pink Panther gem in the 1963 film comedy of the same name starring Peter Sellers and David Niven. According to Interpol, the gang carries out long-term surveillance of its targets, and adapts perfectly to the environment. In affluent areas members drive around in limousines, and in places such as Japan they ride bicycles and wear anti-smog masks.

shafez@thenational.ae