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PINK PANTHERS

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    A view of a port in the town of Bar, Montenegro, May 2013. The Pink Panthers, a gang of jewelry thieves based mainly in Eastern Europe but with a global reach, are active in this town.
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    A young boy outside one of the many cafes lining the sidewalks of Cetinje.
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    A shop window full of jewelry is seen Budva, Montenegro.
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    Valentino's, a strip club and bar, is used by many current and former Pink Panthers to plan, meet and discuss their jobs. It is owned by a former policeman, Rade Bozovic (left) and his friend Radovan, a police inspector.
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    Filip, a pseudonym for an active member of the Pink Panthers, smokes a cigarette in Cetinje, Montenegro.
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    'Mike' - a former Pink Panther from the first generation - trains two proteges in the ways and methods of a 'smash and grab' at a jewelry store in Bar, Montenegro. For example, never grab at jewelry after you've smashed a case, scoop it out using the palm of your hand and be deliberate, otherwise your hands will get severely cut.
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    Ivan, a pseudonym for an active member of the Pink Panthers, sells goods on the black market or through networks of buyers across the globe. He hides his Rolex under his jacket. The ring is a gift from a customer.
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    Dushko Martinovic, a former Pink Panther, is finishing his prison sentence in Montenegro after being nabbed for a heist in St. Tropez. Martinovic was caught after he accidentally left a straw in an Orangina can at an outdoor cafe just before the heist took place.
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    Dushko Martinovic looks out over the water.
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    Two men are seen in the streets of Budva, Montenegro. In recent years, migrant workers from Serbia have come to Montenegro looking for work and some are recruited by the Pink Panthers.
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    A protege is mentored by older Panthers on the techniques of a smash and grab.
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    A view of Budva, Montenegro.
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    A view of Cetinje. A loosely affiliated network made up of dozens of independent groups coming from small villages and towns throughout Montenegro and southern Serbia, the elusive Panthers are highly successful, with an accrued total of thefts reaching almost $500 million.
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    People walk along a street in Cetinje.
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    The small town of Centinje, where many of the Pink Panthers originate from.
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    'Marco' and 'Nemanja' are two Pink Panther proteges, hoping to get involved in the business.
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    A dancer is seen onstage at Valentino's, where many current and former Pink Panthers to plan, meet and discuss their jobs. Valentino's is a trusted place where Panthers can meet quietly and without fanfare, allowing a secluded and private home for their planning.
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    A statue of St. Peter, a patron saint in Montenegro, famous for admonishing those who would steal.
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    'Lara,' the ex-wife of a Pink Panther known as Consul. A brutal man, her husband kept her under virtual house arrest. Consul once held a knife to their toddler son's throat after she threatened to leave him. 'Lara' said "these are just common criminals and all they want is to steal."
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    'Godson,' a senior ranking Panther, waits in his car in a parking lot. One of the original Panthers, Godson is a broker between the Panthers, diamond buyers, and those businesses that want to make a heist.
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    A police car belonging to the Interpol in Montenegro, who work on cases involving the Pink Panthers.
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    Dejan Djurovic, chief of Interpol in Montenegro and a case detective says of the Pink Panthers, "They're just thieves."
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    Broken cars are seen in Cetinje. Montenegro's economy collapsed following the Balkan War, leading to bankruptcy in many industries and a significant rise in unemployment.
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    Duda Pajovic inside his bar in Cetinje. Pajovic was approached by the Pink Panthers about joining their gang but turned them down to continue managing his bar, despite the modest number of customers that he receives.
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    Locals stand outside Duda Pajovic's bar, once a popular place for workers, now a recurring recruiting center for a gang known as the Pink Panthers.
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    Dushko Martinovic, a former Pink Panther, is finishing his prison sentence in Montenegro after being nabbed for a heist in St. Tropez. Martinovic was caught after he accidentally left a straw in an Orangina can at an outdoor cafe just before the heist took place.
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    'The Black Widow,' one of the original Pink Panthers. From the late 1980's until 2007, the Black Widow was active in dozens of jewelry heists, from reconnaissance missions to planning the getaways. She never was caught and is not on the radar of police.
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    "Godson," a senior ranking Panther in his car in a parking lot. One of the original Panthers, Godson is a broker between the Panthers and buyers of diamonds and those businesses that want to make a heist.
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    'Mike,' a current Panther, specializes as a safecracker, a trade he learned from a Kosovar criminal in Italy when he was a teenager. He is from the first wave of Pink Panthers from the late 90's, a former soldier during the long Balkan War. Today, he owns a small beach resort on the Adriatic, along with some holiday rentals and property he purchased with his Panther earnings.
Pink Panthers

This is a story about diamonds, thieves and the Balkans. All across Europe, a spectacularly inventive and elusive gang of jewelry thieves known as the Pink Panthers—a group Interpol believes has stolen more than 350 million Euros worth of jewelry in the past 15 years, often targeting the world’s most exclusive jewelers—have pulled off some of the largest diamond heists in history.

To find the heartland of the Panthers, there is just one place where one needs to look: Cetinje, Montenegro. Many of the arrested thieves were born here, a town that Interpol refers to as “the thieves nest.” Prior to the Balkan Wars, Cetinje was a bustling industrial center. Then the economy collapsed. Many residents now complain about the sanctions and embargoes that drove them into poverty during and after the conflict. To some, the Pink Panthers are exacting revenge on behalf of those in Montenegro who have been stolen from blindly. The refrain for a popular song in the region chimes, “We do not steal from Montenegro, we steal for Montenegro.”

Virtually every resident of Cetinje knows of someone from the village sitting in jail, usually somewhere in Europe, for his involvement with the Pink Panthers’ heists. But the ones who make it out come back with money. Sidewalk cafés, discotheques, the main grocery store—all of these are owned by former Panthers and serve as active recruiting grounds for restive young men seeking an escape from unemployment. “After all, this gives people jobs,” observed a patron in one of Cetinje’s local bars. “I do not care where the money comes from. The main thing [is], it ends up with us.” Despite the gang’s nefarious reputation, many Pink Panthers never get caught.

There are few people in the world with the financial means to purchase the stones that the Panthers steal. According to a top-ranking Pink Panther, most buyers operate out of Belgium, Israel, the U.S. and Arab countries. Certain codes have been established to protect identities: if diamonds are stolen for an Arab client, then a blond woman is mentioned. In this market, jewels sell so fast that they are referred to as “hot potatoes.”

Last year, Foreign Policy magazine named Montenegro a “Mafia State.” It is widely believed that Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, nicknamed King Milo, is usually involved in corruption scandals. A report by the Italian police accused him of turning the country into a haven for smugglers. Although the Pink Panthers’ exploits have taken them across the globe: from London to Dubai, Zurich to Tokyo, Geneva to Singapore, Montenegro—a poor country on the eastern edges of the Adriatic Sea that has for centuries been a haven for a smugglers, pirates, counterfeiters, and thieves of all stripes—continues to be the place they call home.

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