Mar 27, 2009
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Suspected 'Pink Panther' jewel thief held in Cyprus

Mar 27, 2009

LARNACA, March 27, 2009 (AFP) - Cypriot police said on Friday March 27 they have captured a suspected jewel thief, believed to be a member of the notorious "Pink Panther" gang, as he tried to leave the country on a fake passport.

Rifat Hadziahmetovic, a 41-year-old Montenegrin, "tried to leave on a fake Bulgarian passport and was arrested after it was ascertained there was an outstanding arrest warrant for him in Spain," Inspector Christos Andreou said.

He is wanted for jewel thefts worth millions of euros worldwide, notably in Bahrain, Japan, Spain and the United Arab Emirates, and police believe he may be behind a recent spate of jewellery shop heists in Cyprus.

Hadziahmetovic, who denies any connection with the gang, was arrested on March 18.

On Friday, a Larnaca district court judge ordered that he remain in custody until his extradition to Spain, and a hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

The suspect is wanted in Tenerife for stealing luxury watches and precious jewels, with the watches alone having an estimated value of 660,000 euros (877,000 dollars), according to an Interpol message received by Cyprus police.

The Pink Panthers, a mysterious group of Balkan gangsters, have pulled off a daring series of robberies at exclusive addresses in Alpine tax havens, Mediterranean resorts and Gulf monarchies over the past decade.

Senior police investigators from Europe, Japan and the United Arab Emirates met in Monaco this month to step up the hunt for gang members.

Interpol set up a Pink Panther cell in July 2007 to coordinate the hunt for the gang, blamed for 120 armed robberies and the theft of 110 million euros in luxury goods.

Inspector Andreou said Interpol had traced to Cyprus a mobile telephone used by the gang.

Police say the men's crimes are meticulously planned and carried out with ruthless professionalism rather than with the panache of the gentlemen jewel thieves of the comedy movies from which they took their name.

Two alleged members -- a Serb and a Bosnian -- were arrested in Monaco last year on suspicion of preparing a robbery. Three more Serbs were convicted in France in September and sentenced to between six and 15 years in jail.

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