France on Wednesday rejected a Swiss extradition request for a suspected member of the infamous Pink Panther gang of international jewel thieves who was arrested earlier this month.
Zoran Tomovic, born in Montenegro but with French and Macedonian citizenships, had been on the run since escaping from a Swiss prison in May, where he was serving time for armed robbery.
The 47-year-old, a former member of the French Foreign Legion elite force, was detained on Aug 19 at his home in the southern town of Bedarrides.
A court in Nimes, not far from the town, on Wednesday ruled against sending him to Switzerland as France does not extradite its own citizens.
Tomovic is suspected of having stolen jewels in Switzerland and other countries including Germany, Austria, Monaco, Britain, Japan, France and Dubai.
The court will examine on Sept 25 another extradition demand by Macedonia, where he was tried and convicted in absentia in 1998 for murder, as well as his request to be released.
The Pink Panthers emerged from the conflict in the former Yugoslavia to become the most successful jewel thieves in the world.
According to Interpol, they have since 1999 snatched jewels with a value in excess of 330 million euros ($440 million) in heists that are often executed with breathtaking speed and precision.
They gained their nickname with a raid on a London branch of Graff Diamonds in 2003, in which two of them posed as wealthy would-be customers, persuading staff to open doors for them before helping themselves to diamonds worth millions.
Although one of the robbers was overpowered at the scene and another later arrested, only a fraction of the diamonds were recovered, one of them hidden in a pot of face cream.
That was reminiscent of a scene from the 1975 film "The Return of the Pink Panther" and resulted in a nickname that the gang members themselves adopted, wearing pink shirts for a subsequent raid in Zurich.© (C) 2013 AFP