20 Years of heists

Since 1999 the Pink Pan­thers have been re­spon­si­ble for over 380 rob­beries across 35 coun­tries, with a to­tal value of over 334 mil­lion eu­ros

Real Crime - - Pavle Stanimirovic -

I got my name ‘ Punch’ for this spe­cific safe door that I can get into in less than 16 sec­onds

known as the YACS, who the New York Times called “a well- or­ga­nized, highly dis­ci­plined group of com­mer­cial safe bur­glars” of Yu­gosla­vian, Al­ba­nian, Croa­t­ian and Ser­bian de­scent, who were linked to hun­dreds of heists.

“I was born di­rectly un­der and grew up in this crim­i­nal or­gan­i­sa­tion that the feds placed all in one group,” Punch told us, “and la­belled with the name ‘ YACS’. Ev­ery Pink Pan­ther heist any­where in the world uses meth­ods, tech­niques and ideas cre­ated ei­ther by my fa­ther or me. The in­fa­mous ‘ 26 sec­onds or less smash and grab’ was one of my con­tri­bu­tions, but one my fa­ther did not en­dorse.”

In the 1990s, the New York met­ro­pol­i­tan area was hit hard by the YACS. The thieves could steal an ATM out of a bank lobby in un­der one minute and shift the fo­cus of their op­er­a­tions from banks to jewellery stores at the drop of a hat. The YACS would plan for ev­ery pos­si­ble out­come – even the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing ar­rested. The thieves op­er­ated un­der aliases, had pass­ports in dif­fer­ent names and flu­ently spoke mul­ti­ple lan­guages.

Ex­ten­sive sur­veil­lance would be done be­fore the rob­bers en­tered a store on the week­end or in the mid­dle of the night. Punch even re­called set­ting off alarm sys­tems on pur­pose to see how long it would take the po­lice to re­spond. With look­outs watch­ing nearby, the YACS would pry open safes and ATMs with crow­bars or sledge ham­mers. The thieves would mon­i­tor po­lice scan­ners and use walkie- talkies to com­mu­ni­cate. When caught, the YACS wouldn’t co­op­er­ate with law en­force­ment and would refuse to give up any in­for­ma­tion to the po­lice.

“I served more prison time than any­one else in our so­phis­ti­cated crew be­cause I was the only Amer­i­can ci­ti­zen,” Punch, who did 16 years in­side the ‘ belly of the beast’, told Real Crime. “The rest were all de­ported. And that’s ex­actly how it be­came fa­mous and main­stream in Lon­don, Eng­land, around 2003, when the Pink Pan­thers be­came known. A few pissed off sol­diers from the for­mer Yu­goslavia repub­lic gave a green light to steal in Eu­rope and linked up with

‘ The En­gi­neer’ and oth­ers like Bruno Su­lak and Stiv, who’ve be­come leg­ends in Eu­rope.”

Punch said that de­spite the news re­ports of the Pink Pan­thers num­ber­ing over 500, there were only six orig­i­nal mem­bers. The rest were hired hands and very of­ten they didn’t even know who had hired them, in­structed them, trained them or told them ex­actly what to do and how to do it. He claimed that The En­gi­neer was the head hon­cho in Eu­rope and was the one who started the Pink Pan­thers’ rob­bery spree in the early 2000s that stretched from Dubai, Paris, Tokyo, to Lon­don.

The Great­est Liv­ing Safe­cracker

“My first score was a gem heist that I brought to my fa­ther at only 16,” Punch told us. “I’d been pre­par­ing for this since I was around seven years old, but re­ally my en­tire life. I was ready to do this, and the next day I was of­fi­cially rich and had my own money. I did this In­dia Star com­pany, a gem dis­trib­u­tor. This was in 1989. It was a piece of cake and I popped my cherry. I knew what I was go­ing to be do­ing for the rest of my life, and it was ex­cit­ing as fuck. The safe was a punch vault.

“That’s how I got my name ‘ Punch’, for this spe­cific safe door that I can get into in less than 16 sec­onds. I was like an Olympian, and burned through 47th Street in the Di­a­mond District in New York City, steal­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars- worth of jewels. I was born rich so I didn’t do it for

the money. It was a chal­lenge and a big game. There was noth­ing like it in the world. It was an ex­cit­ing life with­out a sin­gle bor­ing day.”

Punch learned how to crack a safe from ‘ The Moth’.

They would prac­tise drilling open dif­fer­ent types of safe in a ware­house in Hobo­ken, New Jer­sey, and see­ing how quickly they could get it done by tim­ing ev­ery­thing. Punch told us it’s all about the plan­ning and look­ing for strate­gic soft spots in the se­cu­rity de­tail. He would find those flaws and ex­pose them. He said that many of the guys that have worked for the Pink Pan­thers didn’t even know who they were work­ing for, that there was only a hand­ful of guys who were the shot­callers be­hind the heists.

Punch said the Balkan Wars, which broke up the for­mer Yu­goslavia, start­ing in 1991, sup­plied him and the other brains in the or­gan­i­sa­tion with an end­less sup­ply of sol­diers – not crim­i­nals or gang­sters, but sol­diers who were ready to fol­low direc­tions ex­plic­itly. These sol­diers didn’t know how to bur­glarise di­a­mond stores, but they learned quickly and fol­lowed or­ders pre­cisely.

The num­ber one rule, handed down by Mr. Stan and fol­lowed by Punch, was that no one gets hurt in the rob­beries. “Any scum can pull the trig­ger or hurt some­one for money,” Punch told Real Crime. “But not one per­son ever got hurt when we stole things. It was like be­ing James Bond… We robbed lux­ury watch stores, jewellery and di­a­mond stores, high- end cloth­ing stores, what­ever we wanted. In the 1990s we were steal­ing Man­hat­tan.”

Punch ended up do­ing most of his prison time in up­state New York, but he was in the fed­eral pris­ons too. By 1994 he was in­side, and he would do sev­eral bids be­fore he de­cided to re­tire from crime in 2012. He never co­op­er­ated with au­thor­i­ties and held his head high in prison, de­spite do­ing time at vi­o­lent pris­ons up­state and at Rik­ers Is­land. A lot of his co­horts were ar­rested and did state time in New York and in fed­eral pris­ons, but when they were re­leased they re­turned to Eu­rope, which was how the Pink Pan­ther leg­end was born.

Mis­sion Im­pos­si­ble- Type jewellery Heists

Punch has done hun­dreds of rob­beries that have net­ted him duf­fel bags of pre­cious and semi- pre­cious gem stones: emer­alds, sap­phires, ru­bies and di­a­monds. They in­clude the in­fa­mous Re­gency Ho­tel heist in Man­hat­tan in 1992, where 36 out of 150 safety de­posit boxes were robbed. But his co­horts in the Pink Pan­thers have gone on to or­ches­trate Hol­ly­wood movie- type ban­ditry in Eu­rope.

From the 2013 Carl­ton In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Ho­tel heist dur­ing the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, to the rob­bery at the up­scale Wafi mall in Dubai in 2007 and the Lon­don jewellery score that put them on the map in 2003, the crew has used dar­ing, sub­terfuge, speed and pre­ci­sion plan­ning to carry on the meth­ods be­gun by Mr. Stan and Punch in New York City. They have stolen hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars- worth of valu­ables be­tween them.

“To­day we are re­tired peo­ple who are left with a crazy true story, Punch said. “I have no re­grets. It was jus­ti­fied to me be­cause I got this spe­cial thing in­side me that makes me do things that I’m not sup­posed to do. You might see ‘ Dan­ger Do Not En­ter’, but I see ‘ ex­plore the shit out of it’.” Punch has been crime- free since 2003, but still ap­plauds his co­horts’ ex­ploits. He has watched from the side­line in the USA as the thing his fa­ther started has taken on a life of its own.

be­low- left Ne­bo­jsa Denic and Mi­lan Jovetic were ar­rested fol­low­ing the theft of £ 23 mil­lion of jewellery from May­fair, Lon­don in 2003

op­po­site The Carl­ton In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Ho­tel in Cannes in France was robbed of £ 90 mil­lion in 2013 dur­ing the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val by thePink Pan­thers – the crew’s most lu­cra­tive heist

be­low Al­leged Pink Pan­ther Rakjo Cau­se­vic was ar­rested in Mon­tene­gro’s cap­i­tal city, Pod­gor­ica, in 2015, af­ter al­legedly bur­gling the res­i­dence of the Croa­t­ian am­bas­sador

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