'Pink Panther' jewel thieves sentenced in Serbia

AP News
Posted: Dec 18, 2009 10:02 AM

Three Serb members of the infamous "Pink Panther" ring of thieves were convicted Friday of Japan's biggest-ever jewel heist, which nabbed treasures including a $27-million (euro19-million) diamond necklace.

A Belgrade court found the three guilty in their second trial of stealing $31.5 million worth of jewels from an upscale shop in Tokyo in March 2004. The jewels have never been found.

Aleksandar Radulovic was sentenced to six years and nine months in prison and Djordje Rasovic received six years and three months, while Snezana Panajotovic got two years and ten months in jail.

The two men, Rasovic and Radulovic, used force during the robbery, and Panajotovic held guard in front of the jewelry shop, Judge Milena Rasic of Serbia's organized crime court said.

The court has said the three were part of the "Pink Panther" ring named after the 1963 film starring Peter Sellers as the bungling Inspector Clouseau. The group is believed to be mainly from the Balkans, and is suspected of several jewel thefts worth more than $150 million in Europe, Asia and the Persian Gulf.

The three convicted Friday were ordered to return the 125-carat necklace, two diamond earrings and seven diamond rings _ or pay the equivalent of their total value in Serbian dinars.

The second trial was held after their lawyers appealed the original verdicts. The prison sentences handed down Friday were slightly lower then those in the original ruling in 2007.

The three were arrested in Belgrade in 2005 on an international warrant and charged in Serbia after Japan agreed that the trial would be held in Serbia.

A fourth suspect, a British woman, was not on trial in Belgrade. The agreement between Japan and Serbia only covered the trial of Serb citizens.