Daring heists rake in half
The following script is from "The Pink Panthers" which aired on March 23, 2014, and was rebroadcast on Aug. 31, 2014. Bob Simon is the correspondent. Katherine Davis and Sam Hornblower, producers.
The largest, most successful gang of diamond thieves in the world is credited with over 370 heists worth $500 million and it's getting bigger and more daring every year. The gang is composed of networks of teams who work together, in Europe mostly. But they have done jobs in 35 countries, as far afield as Tokyo and Dubai. They are ex Yugoslavs, many fought in the Serbian special forces during the Bosnian wars. They are called the Pink Panthers. And that's not a joke.
They got their name from those famous Peter Sellers movies of the 70s and 80s. But as you can well imagine, there are scores of jewelers and cops in many countries who do not find them funny at all. They drove right into the mall in two Audis, crashed the cars into the doors of a jewelry store. Then men in commando gear jumped out, ran into the shop, seemed perfectly relaxed as they broke into glass cases and bagged diamonds worth $3.5 million. Then they got back in their cars and just drove away
Bob Simon: How did you react when you heard about the Dubai heist? I mean, it was pretty brazen Pandora Charms Clearance Store wasn't it?
Ron Noble: I had to see the video to believe that they actually drove two cars through the mall. And then to do all that in less than 45 seconds, yeah, it was hard to believe. But it happened.
That's the world's chief cop who found it hard to believe. Ron Noble is secretary general of INTERPOL, the global police organization based in Lyon, France.
Ron Noble: I'd say that they are the most notorious, Pandora Charms Clearance organized crime group that I've been involved in investigating in my life.
Bob Simon: So they're really good?
Ron Noble: The problem is that they've become legendary because they are so good in their planning and their execution of robberies.
Legendary, in part, because of their name. Remember this scene from that hilarious Peter Sellers comedy where the thief hides the diamond in a jar of cold cream? Well, these professional thieves did exactly the same thing after they hit a high end jewelry store in London in 2003, making off with $40 million in diamonds. That's how they became known as the Pink Panthers.
Copenhagen 2007, a jewelry store inside a hotel, in front of stunned guests, three men raced through the lobby and into the store. They smashed glass cases and made off with more than a million dollars worth of stones.
In the last 20 years they have been responsible for a half a billion dollars in robberies. In all that time, there's been one fatality.
What makes the Panthers so successful, Noble says, is how they do weeks of surveillance and preparation before an attack. These undercover shots show a team taking the measure of a target before a hit.
Ron Noble: The MO of the Pink Panthers is very clear. They tend to use a woman to case the jewelry stores first.
Bob Simon: An attractive woman.
Ron Noble: Attractive woman, woman wearing expensive clothing, woman wearing expensive jewelry
A well heeled man enters next, blocks the door open with his foot and clears the path for the "smash and grab" men. Four people altogether. Precise timing and well planned getaways are their trademark.
Ron Noble: From the time they enter the door until they break all the glass in the cases, take the jewelry, and are out in less than 30 seconds. And then they have a getaway plan. Within a matter of hours, they're in another country. That's their classic MO.
If the Mafia grew out of Sicily, the Pink Panthers are a product of Montenegro Serbia, the now independent republics in what was once Yugoslavia. They were allies in the brutal Bosnian Wars against the Muslims. sanctions halted the flow of products into the country, groups of soldiers became professional smugglers.
Bob Simon: Did many of them have paramilitary training?
Ron Noble: The core were fighters during the war. Paramilitary training. Very organized, very disciplined and ruthless. And were the ones who started it back in '94, '95, '96.
Bob Simon: So they learned their trade in the war?
Andrea Scholz: They grown up with aggression. They know if you want to have success in life, you have to use force and for them, it's common.
Andrea Scholz is a risk prevention consultant in Germany who has been investigating the gang for 10 years.
Bob Pandora Charms Clearance Simon: So the distinctive thing about Pink Panthers from robbers in other countries is that since they're so experienced in war, they are not afraid?
Andrea Scholz: They are not afraid, absolutely.
To date, INTERPOL has identified 800 core Pink Panthers using photos, fingerprints, and DNA. They are notorious for using fake passports, which makes them very hard to catch. Noble says, unlike the Mafia, they have no chain of command.
Ron Noble: They've got networks and depending on the robbery there's someone who organized a particular robbery, but there are no kingpins. There's no Al Capone, or John Gotti at the top of the organized crime groups like classic or traditional organized crime.