'Pink Panther' Tokyo robbery suspect charged in Japan

Suspect Rifat Hadziahmetovic (centre) is escorted by Japanese authorities at Narita international airport, east of Tokyo. Photo: August 2010
Image caption Rifat Hadziahmetovic will now be tried in a Japanese court

Japanese prosecutors have charged an alleged member of the Pink Panther gang of international thieves over a robbery in Tokyo in 2007.

Rifat Hadziahmetovic, 42, from Montenegro, is accused of stealing a tiara and other jewellery worth £2.2m ($3.4m) from a shop in the Ginza area.

Last month he was extradited to Japan from Spain, where he had been held in connection with other charges.

The gang is said to have up to 200 members, many from former Yugoslavia.

A statement by the Japanese prosecutors alleges that Mr Hadziahmetovic sprayed tear gas on shop workers in Tokyo's upmarket district before making off with the jewels.

He will now be tried in a Japanese court, although the date has not been set.

The Pink Panther gang has been blamed for raids on some 120 luxury shops in more than 20 countries - as far afield as the US, Japan, Switzerland and the UAE - over the past few years.

Interpol has been co-ordinating the work of several police forces to try to catch the gang's members.

Police say the Pink Panthers have a less formal structure than most gangs, but can be ruthless, with links to murders and drug trafficking.

They are known for the creativity of their crimes, using bicycles to escape through the heavy Tokyo traffic in the 2007 robbery and a speedboat for a robbery in southern France.

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