Sunday, 21 January 2018

Pink Panthers (Night's Black Agents)

No, not that one. This time out I'm going to talk about the most successful thieving syndicate of modern times, if not history itself: the Pink Panthers. With over 340 robberies and more than $500 million to the good, this gang of former paramilitaries, bandits, fixers and crooks has made its mark across the planet, nicking jewels from London to Tokyo. Next time you see an Audi lingering outside somewhere fat with loot, ask yourself: am I about to be witness to a daring heist?

This gang of Serbian criminals got their start in the early 2000s, after the Kosovo War of 1998-9, between the Federal Forces of Yugoslavia and the rebel, NATO-supported Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), and the Bosnian War of 1992 to 1995. The end of these conflicts put a lot of very skilled, dangerous people out of business, and the sanctions against Yugoslavia throughout the 1990s, which didn't come to an end till 2001, completed an ugly picture. For some Serbs, this turmoil and economic devastation forced emigration; others became creative moneymakers, supplanting and replacing the destroyed economy with smuggling, theft and robbery.

Imagine what happens after ten long years of civil war and economic sanctions. Then imagine the likely result when curbs that had been in place for a decade are lifted, and poor, desperate, well-trained people can move freely across the world, on their own passports or one stolen from someone else. Thieves, smugglers and bandits licked their chops and went in for the kill - among them the Pink Panthers.

It's not clear how many Panthers there are. Estimates go as high as several hundred, but it's probable not all are actual Pink Panthers; more likely, Pink Wannabes. Gang members tend to be highly trained, speak several languages, are comfortable with firearms and violence, and have exceptional attention to detail. In one instance, for example, the robbers painted a bench near a target, specifically to prevent people sitting on it and becoming witnesses to the soon-to-be-crime.

Their method of operation is fairly straightforward. They send in a scout, always an attractive woman, whose job it is to thoroughly explore the target, marking any cameras and security devices. The group then hits the target as quickly and decisively as possible, going in and getting out in minimal time. They almost always use Audis as escape vehicles, because their drivers are very familiar with the type - again, attention to detail, avoiding unnecessary risks. They even went so far as to smuggle stolen Audis into Saudi Arabia, where high-performance luxury cars are much more common. However they are not married to their Audis; in Saint-Tropez they used speedboats to make their getaway.

The loot is then given to a courier and brought back to Serbian brokers for re-cutting, and sale. The courier gets 5%, the broker something like 30 to 40% of the take, and the Panthers themselves get 15%. Their partners in Antwerp and elsewhere in Europe, who put the stolen loot back on the market, get the rest.

In some cases, the diamonds are never sold; instead, they become currency. A boatload of cocaine can be bought with a pocketful of diamonds. Money transactions over a certain amount have to be declared, and cash can be traced, but diamonds have no memory and no conscience.

For most of their career the Pink Panthers avoided violence. They preferred overwhelming force and quick entrance and exit; they might spray tear gas at cashiers, but never shoot. However in recent encounters the alleged Panthers have been considerably sloppier, by their standards, and in a recent confrontation in Greece, a policeman was shot. Over 150 Panthers have been captured and imprisoned over the years, and while some have been broken out of prison by their comrades, others are less fortunate; some, like an unfortunate held in a Saudi jail, never leave prison alive.

Even without this steady drain, the Panthers' days are numbered. Times have changed, and EU membership is on the table. That means the Panthers no longer have a safe haven in Montenegro or Serbia. The more experienced members, who made their fortunes long ago, can retire, and perhaps will, but the newer, less experienced recruits still want to make a killing - and they're the ones more likely to make a serious, perhaps fatal mistake.

In Night's Black Agents terminology, what exactly is a Pink Panther? The archetype combines several different skill sets: investigator, black bagger, bang-and-burner, wheel artist. I'd assign abilities as follows:

InvestigativeIntimidation 1, Languages 1,  Notice 1, Streetwise 1, Urban Survival 2. Possible alternates: Flatter, Flirting (for the female scouts), Architecture.

General - Athletics 4, Conceal 2, Driving 4, Infiltration 2, Preparedness 4. Possible alternates: Disguise, Sense Trouble, Surveillance.

Special Driving Cherry - Audi Expert. The Panther can get extra performance out of an Audi, and for Thrilling Chase purposes has +1 Maneuver.

That's it for this week! Enjoy.

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