'Pink Panther' suspects go on trial accused of £18m jewellery heist

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The Independent Online

Two suspected members of a Serbian crime gang called the "Pink Panthers" went on trial in Belgrade, charged with carrying out Japan's biggest jewellery raid.

Djordjije Rasovic, 41, and Snezana Panajotovic, 23, were allegedly part of a group which robbed an upmarket Tokyo jewellery shop in March 2004, making off with valuables worth £18m. It included the "Comtesse de Vandome," a 125- carat diamond necklace then worth £17m.

Mr Rasovic is accused of carrying out the raid with another alleged Pink Panthers member, Aleksandar Radulovic, who is being tried in absentia after being arrested during a robbery in Copenhagen last year.

Ms Panajotovic allegedly kept watch in a coffee shop in the Ginza neighbourhood of the Japanese capital while the robbery took place. A British woman, Dorothy May Fassola, 51, is alleged to have accompanied her. Her whereabouts are unknown, but she may face trial in Japan, sources said.

Mr Rasovic and Mr Radulovic allegedly used tear gas to disable staff at Le Supre-Diamant Couture De Maki, then smashed security glass protecting the necklace. They fled from Japan using forged passports. Mr Rasovic and Ms Panajotovic were arrested in Belgrade last year on an international warrant. They denied the charges against them yesterday and declined to testify immediately, pending a statement by prosecutors.

With no extradition treaty between the two countries, Japan agreed the trial could go ahead in Serbia.

The Comtesse de Vandome necklace has not been recovered since the robbery.

The Pink Panthers are known for bold robberies from prestigious locations. Two members were sentenced in 2003 for their role in a £20m robbery from Graff jewellers in Bond Street, London.