France arrests suspected 'Pink Panther' gang member

France arrests suspected 'Pink Panther' gang member

PARIS - French police have arrested a suspected member of the infamous Pink Panther gang of international jewel thieves in the southern city of Montpellier, police sources said Wednesday.

The suspect, a citizen of Montenegro aged about 40, was detained at his home in the city on Monday, despite trying to flee out of a window when police arrived, one source said.

A former member of the French Foreign Legion, the suspect was wanted in several countries, including under two international arrest warrants recently issued by Switzerland.

The suspect, tracked down during a lengthy investigation, was due to appear before a judge on Wednesday or Thursday, a police source said.

The Pink Panthers emerged from the conflict in the former Yugoslavia to become the most successful jewel thieves in the world.

According to Interpol, they have since 1999 snatched jewels with a value in excess of 330 million euros ($440 million) in heists that are often executed with breathtaking speed and precision.

They gained their nickname with a raid on a London branch of Graff Diamonds in 2003, in which two of them posed as wealthy would-be customers, persuading staff to open doors for them before helping themselves to diamonds worth millions.

Although one of the robbers was overpowered at the scene and another later arrested, only a fraction of the diamonds were recovered, one of them hidden in a pot of face cream.

That was reminiscent of a scene from the 1975 film "The Return of the Pink Panther" and resulted in a nickname that the gang members themselves adopted, wearing pink shirts for a subsequent raid in Zurich.

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