Dutch police have identified the culprits behind a brazen heist at last year’s edition of the European Fine Art Fair, or TEFAF, as members of the so-called Pink Panther Gang, a notorious criminal organization from the Balkans that has been active since 2001.
“Sources surrounding the investigation” have fingered the Panthers in the crime, the Dutch newspaper reported, though the crime remains unresolved beyond the connection to the gang. The news is a vindication for the Dutch detective Arthur Brand, known for his work recovering stolen artworks and antiquities, who voiced his suspicions that the gang was involved in the weeks after the June 2022 heist.
The Pink Panthers are known for their bold daylight robberies, posing as well-dressed customers and then acting with precision to quickly make off with millions in stolen jewels. Other thefts have involved crashing cars into buildings.
The gang got their name after a 2003 robbery at London’s Graff Jewelers that the compared to the 1975 Inspector Clouseau film , starring Peter Sellers—echoing a scene from the movie, police found one of the stolen diamond rings hidden inside a jar of face cream.
The $33 million caper was, at the time, the largest diamond heist in British history, with the thieves making off with 47 pieces of jewelry. A decade ago, the estimated that the Panthers had made off with €330 million ($422.5 million) in stolen diamonds and jewels over the course of some 341 thefts. The size of the gang has been estimated at 200 to 300 operatives, overseen by a core group of 30-or-so thieves.
At TEFAF, the robbers wore suits with newsboy hats and carried guns, using a sledgehammer to smash display cases before making off with their loot on electric scooters.
The most valuable piece in their 10-piece haul was a necklace with a 114 carat vivid yellow diamond reportedly valued at €27 million ($29 million)—although Charles Taylor Adjusting, a British company investigating the crime for the jewelry’s insurers, has denied the figure is that high. The firm is offering a €500,000 ($534,495) reward for information that leads to the return of the rest of the jewels, but the black market for valuable stones leaves prospects for their return dim.
Detectives working with Interpol and Europol recently recovered one of the stolen pieces—but not the yellow diamond, according to Dutch news outlet 1limburg.
The news of the Pink Panthers’ involvement comes as TEFAF prepares to open its latest edition—and first to take place during its regular dates since the truncated 2020 fair, which became a COVID superspreader event—on March 9.
Despite last year’s crime, TEFAF will still welcome some 270 dealers offering a wide range of art, antiquities, design, jewelry, and antiques—although Symbolic and Chase, the London jewelry dealer that was the victim of the heist, declined an invitation to return.
“The investigation focuses on a specific group of suspects from the Balkans. That is an important starting point for us,” the head of the police investigation team said in a statement. “We are doing everything we can to solve this brutal robbery.”
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