'Pink Panther' suspect held in Cyprus

Police in Cyprus have arrested a man from Montenegro believed to belong to a gang of jewel thieves dubbed the Pink Panthers, who are suspected of carrying out a $150m series of robberies over the past 10 years in Europe, Asia and the Gulf states, Interpol said yesterday.

Rifat Hadziahmetovic was arrested on 18 March as he tried to enter Larnaca airport, Cypriot police said, because he was travelling on a forged Bulgarian passport. An identity check by Cypriot police revealed that he was the subject of an Interpol "Red Notice" – meaning that he was on the agency's international wanted list.

Hadziahmetovic was then arrested on charges of alleged involvement in a 2008 robbery on the Spanish island of Tenerife, Interpol said in a statement from its headquarters in Lyon, France.

Hadziahmetovic appeared in a Cypriot court yesterday and will appear in court on Tuesday for the start of extradition proceedings to Spain.

The Pink Panthers are the prime suspects in a daring robbery not long before Christmas 2008 at the Harry Winston jewellery shop in Paris. The thieves walked into the store and made off with $108m worth of gems.

Some Pink Panther members are already in jail, including three Serbs who were convicted in 2005 for a robbery in Japan, which included a necklace worth $27m. Hadziahmetovic is suspected of participating in other armed robberies in Bahrain, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.

Jean-Michel Louboutin, Interpol's executive director of police services, said Hadziahmetovic has been identified from his fingerprints.

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