'Pink Panther' suspect being sent to Japan

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The Independent Online

A suspected member of the storied "Pink Panther" ring of jewel thieves is being extradited to Japan from Spain on accusations he stole a $2 million diamond tiara in Tokyo three years ago, Japanese media reports said today.

Kyodo News reported that Rifat Hadziahmetovic, 42, suspected of snatching the tiara and other jewelry from a downtown Tokyo store in 2007, is being transported to Japan as soon as later Saturday.

Police offices were closed over the weekend, and the reports could not be immediately confirmed.

Hadziahmetovic of Montenegro, a tiny country on the Adriatic Sea, was arrested in Cyprus last year on a separate charge of trying to leave Cyprus using a fake passport. He was later extradited to Spain, over a 2008 robbery on the Spanish island of Tenerife.

The Spanish government earlier agreed to hand him over to Japan, according to the reports.

The Pink Panthers, named after the 1963 movie starring Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, are believed to be mainly from countries in the Balkans.

They are the prime suspects in a series of jewel thefts worth more than $150 million over the past decade in Europe, Asia and the Persian Gulf.

Some Pink Panther members have already been caught but others are still at large. Hadziahmetovic is suspected of participating in other armed robberies in Bahrain, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.

The Pink Panther members are also suspected in a 2004 Tokyo jewelry theft.