A Balkan gang is suspected of being behind the theft of diamonds at last year’s edition of The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF), the renowned Dutch art fair, the Limburg police department announced Friday.
An international consortium of researchers and detectives working on the case believe the theft to be the work of a well known gang based in the Balkans which have been implicated in several heists, police said.
The Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported that sources close to the investigation say that the gang is the notorious Pink Panthers, who have been responsible for multiple diamond and jewelry heists around the world, including in Dubai, Tokyo, and Greece since 2001.
The gang is known for tactics that seem ripped from a movie, including a trick with a jar of face cream that was used in one of the original Pink Panther movies. Little is known about the internal structure of the gang, which experts say could range from 30 to 800 members.
Arthur Brand, a Dutch national who often works with police working on art crime investigations, said that he suspected the Pink Panthers from the very beginning.
“They did this robbery at TEFAF in broad daylight, so you have to think, who would dare do such a thing?” Brand told ARTnews. “Well, the Pink Panthers are known for the daring heists.”
In fact, the TEFAF robbery might have been one of the simplest heists the Pink Panthers ever pulled off. When they arrived at the fair, they strolled in wearing newsboy hats, used a heavy object to break open cases from the British jewel company Symbolic & Chase, and got away on electric scooters. Other heists have involved crashing luxury cars into buildings and getting away on high speed boats.
Regardless of how ingenious the thieves were, they likely got away with an estimated $25 million worth of diamonds. One of the diamonds, however, has been recovered.
“It was not the well-known large yellow diamond,” an investigator said in the press release. “But with the discovery of this piece of jewelry, the research team can take another big step in the investigation.”
Brand postulated that the diamond may have been lost in the course of the getaway or turned in by a suspicious diamond jeweler. But it is exactly this quality of being able to split up these valuable assets that have attracted the Pink Panthers to jewel theft as opposed to art theft.
“To sell a few diamonds is easier than to sell a Van Gogh,” said Brand. “They have a whole network of people who can cut down these diamonds, and then no one recognizes them and that’s it.”