Paging Inspector Clouseau

Did an escaped Bosnian inmate from the "Pink Panthers" robbery syndicate steal Lev Leviev’s $53 million jewels?

By
July 30, 2013 00:39
2 minute read.
A POLICEMAN stands on the balcony of the Carlton Hotel in Cannes .

Carlton Hotel in Cannes Leviev posters 370. (photo credit: Eic Gaillard/Reuters)

 
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Could an escaped Bosnian member of the “Pink Panthers” international jewel-robbing syndicate be behind the Sunday morning heist of $53 million in jewels belonging to Soviet-born Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev in France yesterday? No one has been arrested yet in connection with the crime, but one likely suspect who has emerged is Milan Poparic, a 24-year-old Bosnian national who escaped from a Swiss prison last Thursday.

Poparic and inmate Adrian Albrecht, 52, made their way to freedom after two accomplices with ladders drove up to the fence of Orbe Prison near the French border and used machine-guns to keep guards at bay while the two prisoners scaled the fence.

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Poparic was serving a sentence of six years and eight months for the 2009 robbery of a jewelry store in the Swiss city of Neuchatel. His fellow escapee was in prison for a series of crimes unrelated to the jewel thieves syndicate.

According to the Interpol website, the Pink Panthers group is behind a series of armed robberies of jewelry stores in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the United States.

Interpol says the group is a loosely-aligned network of hundreds of members that have carried out robberies worth more than $396 million since 1999.

“The Pink Panthers’ methods are daring and quick,” Interpol says, citing a case in 2007 when members drove two cars into a shopping mall in Dubai and through the window of a jewelry store, making off with more than 11m. euros-worth of jewelry in less than a minute.

Interpol says many of the gang members are known to be from the former Yugoslavia and are spread out across several continents.

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During the late morning raid on Sunday, a robber wearing gloves and with his face obscured by a scarf, charged into the Carlton Hotel in Cannes waving an automatic pistol, and demanded that he be handed over several bags of jewels and diamond-encrusted watches.

The French Riviera hotel had been housing an exhibit of Leviev’s diamonds since July 20.

French media reports said the jewels were worth around $53m., but the company housing the exhibit did not confirm this.

Asked for a response on Monday, the Leviev group said “KLG Jewelry LLC/LEVIEV Extraordinary Diamonds was informed of a theft yesterday morning by an armed robber from its exhibit in the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, France. The gems were to be on public display until the end of August.

Company officials are cooperating with local authorities investigating the loss and are relieved that no one was injured in the robbery.”

In a “life-imitating-art” aspect of the robbery, the Carlton was the setting of scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 film To Catch a Thief, which starred Cary Grant as a one-time cat burglar.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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