News World The Pink Panthers: Elusive gang likely behind French hotel heist
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The Pink Panthers: Elusive gang likely behind French hotel heist

jewel heist
Who stole millions of dollars worth of jewellery from a secure Paris apartment? Photo: Getty
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The Pink Panthers. Sounds cute. Like a softball team or a girl pop band.

Instead they’re a weirdly celebrated gang of jewel thieves who have stolen as much as half a billion dollars (Australian) from 380 jewel heists over the past 17 years.

The gang is made up of about 200 desperado Serbs and Montenegrins, mostly men but a few women.

They’re often described as sophisticated and innovative – largely because they have a flair for costumes and cheap wigs – and conjure up images of an Ocean’s Eleven scenario where robbery is pulled off as a complicated ballet.

It’s regularly noted how the gang avoids gunfire or otherwise hurting people as a strategy to avoid the kind of intense police response that accompanies bloodshed.

Really, they’re just old-fashioned smash and grab bandits. At their gentlest that means driving an Audi through a jewellery shop window in Dubai, in 2007.

At their roughest, they’ve used pepper spray on shop owners, and in 2003, during a robbery of the famed Graff jewellery store in London – favoured by the likes of Victoria Beckham, Danielle Steele and Oprah Winfrey – a gun went off when a security guard tackled and secured one of the robbers.

The bullet ricocheted off an air conditioner and grazed the nose of a female passer-by.

Later, from this same robbery, a blue diamond worth a million dollars was found in a jar of cold cream in a London flat where gang suspects were living.

The cold cream ruse was also used in a robbery from the original Blake Edwards Pink Panther movie.

Scotland Yard thus named the gang the Pink Panthers and Interpol for 12 years ran a Pink Panther project to identify gang members and establish an international network of police from the 35 countries where the gang had run riot.

Last Monday, in Paris, five Pink Panthers in police uniform – or somebody mimicking the gang’s modus operandi – stormed a private mansion, the Hotel de Pourtales (also known as the ‘No-Name Hotel’), put a gun to the head of a young mother of two small children, tied her up and put her in the bathtub. They then set about stealing her valuable jewellery.

The haul has been reported as being worth between $9 and $14 million. Among the jewels was a $4 million engagement ring. As if to give the episode a touch of Parisian gaiety, they made their escape on bicycles.

The victim was reality television star Kim Kardashian, who was in town for Fashion Week.

kim kardashian
This was the ring one of the robbers allegedly stole from Kardashian. Photo: Getty

The Kardashian factor has been a big distraction from the crime itself. First there were widespread sniggers and speculation on social media that Kardashian had staged the robbery as an attention-seeking exercise because her TV show ratings were in decline.

Then there was a vile spray of schadenfreude that she deserved to be terrified on the basis of her vacuity.

Karl Lagerfeld and the French Police (who have been embarrassed by several jewel heists in Paris over the past year) took turns in blaming Kardashian for making her whereabouts known on social media.

She was also reprimanded for carting about so much booty (the jewels, not her famous backside, in this instance) with minimal security.

💎💎💎

A photo posted by Kim Kardashian West (@kimkardashian) on

The bodyguard

Kardashian had a bodyguard, Pascal Duvier, who was keeping watch over Kardashian’s sisters Kourtney and Kendall at the time of the robbery.

His absence from Kim’s side and a reported bankruptcy has seen him named as possible suspect by the media – but apparently not yet by police.

A former security guard has jumped on the bandwagon, claiming Kardashian scrimped on security – and claiming he’s certain it was an inside job.

This guy is always in my shot!

A photo posted by Kim Kardashian West (@kimkardashian) on

The concierge

The concierge is also under public pressure to explain himself. Kardashian reportedly told police the man was very calm when the robbers, with a gun to his head, had him open up her suite.

He has since written a letter to Kardashian explaining that remaining calm was his best and only option. It also needs to be said the man was just as likely to have been in shock.

“Dear Kim,” he wrote in a statement published by French magazine Closer, “When you feel the cold steel of a gun at your neck, it is the moment when remaining calm can mean the difference of life or death, both our lives.

“I hope you are feeling better.”

Media outside Kim Kardashian's private residence in Paris, where the robbery took place. Photo: Getty
Media outside Kim Kardashian’s private residence in Paris, where the robbery took place. Photo: Getty

The ex-Panther

In the past couple of days, the Pink Panthers have been named as likely suspects, although much of the leadership has been jailed in recent years.

Former Pink Panther and safe cracker, Palve “Punch” Stanimirovic, gave an interview to the Daily Beast.

He said staging a robbery in Paris at this time was audacious given the high security in place following several terrorist attacks – but he also said it was a perfect crime, exactly how he’d do it himself.

He said the best place to be for jewel thieves at the moment was Monte Carlo where the gang made their escape on speedboats. He lamented that the Kardashian haul would only bring $2-3 million once the diamonds were fenced.

It’s worth noting that he spent quite a bit of time talking about Kim, and how she was perfect victim for the gang, how she’d brought it on herself.

It doesn’t appear that Mr Stanimirovic regularly provides commentary on heists.

But, of course, this was a Kardashian affair, and everybody wants in on the act.

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