On March 23, CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes ran a segment on the Pink Panther jewel thieves, featuring footage of their most sensational robberies and an interview with a semiretired robber.
“They are the most notorious, organized crime group that I’ve been involved in investigating in my life,” Ron Noble, secretary general of INTERPOL, told correspondent Bob Simon. “The problem is that they’ve become legendary because they are so good in their planning and their execution of robberies.”
The Panthers are believed to have conducted 370 heists, nabbing some $500 million in jewels, the show said—although they are not a gang in the conventional sense, more of a bunch of connected groups.
“There’s no Al Capone or John Gotti at the top…like classic or traditional organized crime,” Noble said.
The gang has roots in the Bosnian wars of the 1990s. Many Panthers were soldiers who turned to smuggling in the wake of United Nations sanctions. They are able to dispose of their loot easily in Antwerp, leading Simon to declare that “being a diamond thief isn’t a bad career.”
The gang has even branched out beyond jewelry, committing a 2008 museum robbery that netted a Monet, a van Gogh, a Degas, and a Cézanne. It was the largest art robbery in European history.
And while many Panthers have been arrested, some adhere to a strict code of omertà even when caught.
Meanwhile, Panthers are training the new generation and have even inspired copycats. One problem: When law enforcement dubbed them the Pink Panthers, it increased their notoriety.
“We smile at the name of Pink Panthers,” Noble said. “They are not nice guys. These are not nice guys who are stealing from the rich to give to the poor. These are just cold-blooded and ruthless and notorious thieves.”
Video of the episode and a transcript is available here.
JCK interviewed the director of a documentary about the Pink Panthers in September.