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The Psyche of the Pink Panthers Robbery Group

The International Robbery Network

 

We’ve got our Ocean’s 8, 11, 12 or 13, we’ve got our La Casa de Papel (Money Heist) in the fantastical world of movies and TV. The Pink Panthers robbery group, an epithet endowed upon them after the 2003 London diamond heist using a jar of face cream like in the Pink Panther movie, has given us an assembly line of high-stakes heists for the better part of the 21st century. They have been responsible for some of the most high-profile robberies of luxury items like jewellery and artefacts across Europe, Monaco, the UAE, and Japan. They were involved in one of Tokyo’s biggest heists having seized items worth ¥284 million in 2007; other exploits include a $100 million heist in Paris in 2008, and the 2013 heist in Cannes worth around $136 million.


Meet the Pink Panthers: masters of heists across Europe, Monaco, UAE, and Japan. From Tokyo's ¥284M haul to Cannes' $136M score, their exploits rival Hollywood's best.

Their methods are often brazen smash and grabs, with the robbers entering their target with weapons, holding people at gunpoint, fear and shock as they net the valuables, before dashing off in their getaway rides. Many of their crimes have been caught on camera, the 2008 heist in Wali Mall in Dubai being an infamous example of their Modus Operandi.


They are believed to be a nebulous network of hundreds of men and women predominantly coming from the former Yugoslavian nations of the Balkans (Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Kosovo). Since the 2000s, there have been many arrests made by Interpol and other law enforcement agencies, but while they arrest individual operatives and groups, given the organization's loose structure it’s difficult to ascertain how much of the hierarchy and organization is being weakened. The capture of Mitar Marjanovic in 2012 was considered to be a high-profile arrest of somebody who operated at a higher level of the organization’s ranks.


A slew of arrests is believed to have weakened the network; the 2015 arrest of six operatives in Zagreb, Croatia, the 2018 arrest of Uros Maljkovic, and the 2022 arrest of three suspected Pink Panther in Italy are more recent examples of successful capture. However, there have also been some notable escapes, like that of the Serbian operative Dragan Mikic in 2005, that of Olivera Vasic Cirkovic in 2012, and Milan Poparic in 2013. In addition, the continued recruitment of new members into the network means that the heists continue too.



The loose structure of the group makes it difficult to ascertain if robberies are done by the network or by others. Notably, the 2016 robbery of Kim Kardashian in Paris was speculated by some to be a Pink Panthers job. The daylight robbery at the 2022 European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF), where a diamond necklace worth $29 million among other items was seized, was identified by the Dutch police as that of Pink Panther operatives.


As with other criminal figures like the Mafia don, or the outlaw gunslinger of the Wild West, the Pink Panthers’ bold and brazen acts of crime make them fascinating figures. For the apparent high-stakes, thrill and rebellion against the rules of society have an elemental and fantastical allure for people. What makes them do such dangerous jobs? How does it feel in the thick of it? How are they as people, are they unhinged and dangerous, or smooth and suave?


The 2013 BBC documentary Smash & Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers illustrates, perhaps a fraction of what it's like to be in that dangerous line of business. The psychology of what drives people into it, the phenomenology of what it’s like being in the thick of it. They interview a couple of self-identified Pink Panther members under the conditions of anonymity, whose interviews are then acted out by fictionalized characters like “Mike” the safe-cracker and “Lena” the femme-fatal scout, among others.  

The most important factor to look at is the background the Pink Panthers come from, and the time they emerged. At the turn of the millennium, from the Balkan region of Europe. This was after a decade of civil wars ravaged the region formerly the country of Yugoslavia. The interviews depict a time when people of the region found it difficult to find legitimate work, with many people joining the warring militias, the black-market trade and crime to get by. There was also a large number of refugees fleeing, primarily to Europe.



Such difficult circumstances led people, like the eponymous “Mike”, to make use of the survival skills of smuggling and safe cracking even after the war to get by. For others, like the eponymous “Lena”, the allure of wealth and luxury through crimes like heists offered an escape from the cycle of oppressive blue-collar immigrant work. It illustrates a longing, perhaps even greed, to have a slice of what the wealthy had, especially after coming from a place and time of extreme dysfunction and poverty.


There’s also the rush of having completed a job, or like “Mike” puts it, the rush of opening a safe and seeing it full. The rush of fast cash and a fast lifestyle. Conversely, though, as “Lena” articulates, the life is also full of anguish and isolation from a normal society. Something even “Mike” alludes to when he talks of the paranoia that they pay as a price, along with the uncertainty of the future.


The documentary perhaps dramatizes the depiction of these fictionalized Pink Panthers members, ostensibly sourcing their material from actual anonymous members of the robbery network. But they, along with the real-life CCTV footage of their robberies in action, interviews with police officers and journalists, and most importantly the historical context that produced such drives and motivations, provide an illuminating insight into the psyche of people willing to risk high-stakes for some fast cash. Pink panthers robbery group. Pink panthers robbery group

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