The “Peaky Blinders” heist in which jewelry worth more than $29 million was stolen from an art fair was masterminded by a legendary gang of jewel thieves known as the Pink Panthers, an art detective has claimed.
Arthur Brand, 53, known as the “Indiana Jones of the art world” for tracking down stolen or missing masterpieces, including stolen gems, told The Times that the armed robbery at a prestigious art fair in Maastricht had all the hallmarks of Pink Panthers.
“If I had to bet, I’d say it’s the modus operandi and work of the Pink Panthers,” he said of the raid that took place on June 28. “What we saw were fearless men clearly raising their middle fingers to the rest of the world. They took a massive risk and the Pink Panthers are known worldwide for that.”
The Pink Panthers are thought to have some 250 members, with a criminal leadership based in the former Yugoslavia, and are suspected of more than 340 gem robberies worldwide worth up to $360 million.
The gang took its nickname from the 1963 comedy film starring Peter Sellers and David Niven after British police found a diamond ring worth $748,000 hidden in a jar of face cream, emulating the movie, in 2003.
With robberies that are always high-profile and high risk, the Pink Panthers are renowned in the underworld for their coolness, disguises, speed and getaways.
Brand argues the unsolved robbery at the European Fine Art Foundation fits the pattern of Pink Panther raids. “The coolness. The braveness and daring. The biggest art fair in the world, in broad daylight amid hundreds of visitors,” he said. “To carry out such an act is something typical for the Pink Panthers.”
The Pink Panthers are thought to have some 250 members, with a criminal leadership based in the former Yugoslavia.
Video released this week showed the gang walking into the fair, smartly dressed and wearing flat caps, which help mask facial features on CCTV, in the style of the Birmingham gangsters in the BBC series Peaky Blinders.
Walking calmly and briskly to the stand of the elite London jeweller Symbolic & Chase, they put on gloves and one of the gang smashes a jewelry cabinet with a sledgehammer.
Other gang members keep bystanders at bay with what appear to be automatic pistols and an Uzi machine gun, remaining calm when one bystander kicks the man smashing into the cabinet.
After less than a minute, the man grabs some jewelry out of the cabinet — thought to be a yellow diamond necklace worth $27.5 million as well as Cartier earrings. The men then flee, leaving the fair via a staff exit and escaping on electric scooters to a getaway car.
“It’s like Ocean’s Eleven or Ocean’s Twelve. It’s amazing what they do,” said Brand. “The Pink Panthers always go for the highest of the highs. They know a lot of people’s jaws will drop at the sight of such a robbery.”
While noting “it could just be amateurs who got a lucky day”, Brand said that his contacts in the Dutch underworld were impressed by the professionalism of the robbers. “They say ‘my god, this looks like a movie. It’s so professional.’ ”
If caught, the gang of four robbers, plus one known accomplice, face some three years in prison having, said Brand, earned “their retirement money in a minute”. “They take the risk of being arrested, and when they are released they should be very rich.”
The rare yellow diamond on the necklace, belonging to and designed by Joel Arthur Rosenthal, 79, a jewelry designer known as the “Fabergé of our time”, has probably been cut up for sale in the underworld.
“If they did steal that big yellow diamond, then I expect they’ve already made it three times smaller,” said Brand. “This is how jewel thieves usually work.”
Bruno Waterfield is the Brussels correspondent for The Times of London. He has been covering the EU for almost two decades as it has lurched from crisis to crisis, then Brexit and beyond. He is a devotee of Belgian beer and food.