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Suspected jewelry thief thought to belong to Pink Panthers gang charged in Japan in 2007 heist

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese prosecutors charged a man believed to belong to the "Pink Panthers" ring of jewelry thieves Friday with stealing a diamond tiara and other jewelry worth millions from a Tokyo store.

The Pink Panthers, named after the 1963 movie starring Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, are thought to have nabbed a quarter of a billion dollars in jewelry in heists around the globe. Gang members usually execute swift robberies, lasting less than three minutes, and escape from the crime scenes in creative ways. Interpol has set up "Project Pink Panthers" to track them.

Rifat Hadziahmetovic, 42, allegedly entered a jewelry store in Tokyo's ritzy Ginza shopping district pretending to be a shopper, according to a statement from the Tokyo District Prosecutors Office. The statement said he sprayed tear gas on several shop clerks, thus incapacitating them, before making away with the loot.

The native of the tiny Adriatic nation of Montenegro was charged with robbery for allegedly snatching the tiara and two other pieces of jewelry — totaling 284 million yen ($3.4 million) — in June 2007, the statement said.

Hadziahmetovic, who was handed over to Japan by Spanish authorities last month, will be tried in a Japanese court. His trial date has not been set.

He was arrested in Cyprus last year on a separate charge of trying to leave the island using a fake passport. He was later extradited to Spain for a 2008 robbery on the Spanish island of Tenerife. Many of the Pink Panthers' members are believed to be from countries in the Balkans.

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