Pink Panther gang member guilty of biggest gem heist

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The Independent Online

The badly fitting curly black wig should have tipped off the security staff at Graff, the Mayfair jewellers.

The badly fitting curly black wig should have tipped off the security staff at Graff, the Mayfair jewellers.

But unfortunately for the famous suppliers of gems to the glitterati, the man with the ridiculous hair-piece and his smartly dressed colleague were buzzed through the security "airlock" into the shop. Within minutes the two thieves, part of an international robbery outfit nicknamed the "Pink Panther Gang", had scooped up £23m worth of gems from two display cases in Britain's biggest diamond robbery.

The law yesterday caught up with one of the jewel robbers, Nebojsa Denic, the man with the wig, who was found guilty of the hold-up that took place in May last year. But his boss and accomplice, the enigmatic "Marco", has yet to be convicted, and the whereabouts of most of the stolen diamonds is still unknown.

Details of the robbery and the gang's exploits were revealed yesterday at the end of Denic's trial at the Old Bailey. The gang is a group of notorious Balkan robbers who are thought to be responsible for armed raids on exclusive jewellers throughout Europe.

In the Mayfair robbery, Denic used a Magnum revolver to threaten the staff and was only captured when a security guard wrestled him to the ground on the pavement outside the store in New Bond Street.

During the struggle with the guard, Denic fired the handgun and the bullet ricocheted off a building and struck a woman in the face, causing her nose to bleed. He was convicted yesterday of conspiracy to rob, having a firearm with intent and using a firearm to resist arrest. He is due to be sentenced today.

Denic, 34, a Kosovan Serb, travelled from his home in Switzerland, where he worked as a hospital cleaner, to London on a £50 flight a week before the robbery. After the raid, staff said they had been bemused by his obvious hair-piece when he first entered the shop, but did not say anything because they are used to celebrities going there in disguise. Among the store's famous clients are Naomi Campbell, Mike Tyson and Ivana Trump.

His accomplice, Marco, whom police believe is a man named Predrag Vujosevic, managed to escape with the jewels. Mr Vujosevic is currently under arrest with his girlfriend in Paris, and Scotland Yard detectives plan to fly to France to interview him about the Graff robbery. They are also investigating a possible connection between the international gang and the theft of the £17m Comtesse de Vendôme necklace in a robbery in Tokyo in March.

Mr Vujosevic, who comes from Montenegro, is also wanted for questioning by police in Spain, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany in connection with armed jewel raids.He is believed to have served prison sentences for robbery and attempted murder in Italy and Montenegro.

So far only about £3m of the 47 stolen Graff gems have been recovered. A £500,000 blue diamond ring was found in a jar of baby cream in the London home of Milan Jovetic, 24, also from Montenegro.

Jovetic pleaded guilty before the trial to conspiracy to rob. He had arranged hotels and accommodation for the gang members, and had helped Marco to flee the country.