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'Pink Panther' fences arrested in Austria

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'Pink Panther' fences arrested in Austria
Video images show robbers in Montreux jewellery shop. Photo: Vaud cantonal police
19:04 CET+01:00
Three Israelis and a Serbian suspected of belonging to the Pink Panthers gang and linked to a Swiss armed robbery were arrested in Vienna with stolen luxury watches and jewellery worth €500,000, Austrian police said on Tuesday.

Officers caught the four men, aged between 35 and 40, in a Vienna hotel with the booty stolen from a Montreux jewellery shop in the Swiss canton of Vaud on January 15th.

Police believe the suspects acted as the receivers of the stolen goods and were planning to sell the watches to wealthy clients.

"This is the first time in Austria that we have managed to identify and arrest members of the Pink Panthers redistribution channel," Ewald Ebner from the Austrian Federal Criminal Police Office said at a press conference.

Police got a tip-off that a courier from Serbia was travelling to Vienna in order to buy luxury watches.

After he crossed the border into Austria police put him under surveillance and he was observed meeting up with a Vienna-based Israeli man in the city's 2nd district, who drove him to a hotel.

After money had changed hands and the Serb emerged from the hotel with €57,000 in cash police swooped and arrested him, along with two Israelis who are resident in Belgium and had been involved in the sale of the watches.

In the hotel room police found a 37-year-old Israeli man carrying a suitcase with a false bottom that contained 25 watches.

One of the watches was valued at about €53,000.

Ebner said that the men were "uncooperative" when they were arrested and pretended they knew nothing about the seized loot.

If found guilty of handling stolen goods the men could face between six months and five years in prison.

The investigation was carried out in cooperation with Belgian, German, Serbian and Swiss police.

The Pink Panthers gang is known for lightning-fast armed robberies targeting high-end jewellery stores in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the United States.

They are believed to have carried out robberies worth in excess of €500 million since 1999.

Many gang members are known to originate from the former Yugoslavia, but they work across countries and continents.

The Pink Panthers have been responsible for several robberies in Austria.

In October, a member of the Pink Panthers was released early from prison in Austria, after an embarrassing gaffe caused by a computer error.

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