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Wednesday 1 October 2014

'Sleight of hand' thieves stole rings worth €135k

Published 09/03/2014 | 02:30

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STOLEN: The thieves are said to have pilfered a €40k watch from Weir’s on Dublin’s Grafton Street

One of Europe's top sleight-of-hand thieves is believed responsible for the theft of two diamond rings valued at €135,000 from a top Dublin jewellers.

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The man and his female accomplice are also suspected of stealing a £40k (€48k) watch from Harrods in London two years ago.

The couple and an accomplice who fly into countries across Europe from Romania, are also suspected of stealing a Phillippe Patek watch valued at €40k last year from Weir's Jewellers on Grafton Street.

CCTV footage from Weir's shows the man, and the woman in a hijab, examining the watch before switching it and leaving, the theft not noticed until well after they had left.

The two diamond rings were stolen from Boodle's Jewellers on Grafton Street, on February 10 by the thief dressed in "Arab-style clothing", according to a garda report , and accompanied by a younger woman again dressed in a hijab, partially concealing her face. One of the rings was valued at just under €100k and the other at €35k.

The man asked to be shown expensive rings and when shown two on a tray, palmed them, and replaced them with near identical fakes.

Gardai established that the couple, the man in his 30s the woman in her 20s, flew into Dublin the night before the theft and flew out that evening after stealing the rings.

Gardai also believe the thieves have accomplices currently living in Ireland who may have reconnoitered the shops beforehand.

In the case of the watch stolen last year, the same method was used, pocketing the real watch and replacing it with a cheap fake.

In both instances the thefts were not noticed until after the couple had left.

The identities and manner of the thefts have been reported throughout the jewellery trade in Europe and North America, where similar thefts by couples matching the description have taken place.

The couple, along with an accomplice posing as their chauffeur, are also suspected of stealing another watch valued at £40,000 from Harrods in London in August 2012, again dressed as wealthy Arabs.

The couple used the same technique in Harrods, replacing the watch with a cheap imitation and the theft was not discovered until well after they had left.

Gardai have joined British police in issuing a European arrest warrant for the man and the female accomplice.

The man is from a Roma family from the Transylvania region of Romania who have built ostentatious homes in recent years, paid for with the masses of cash from their thefts.

He was arrested in Germany in 2012 on suspicion of another distraction jewellery theft but released when police were unable to find the jewellery he had stolen.

Between 2012 and 2013, the same team are suspected of stealing jewellery from high-end shops in London, Shropshire, Norfolk, Avon and Cheshire in England.

Female relatives of the Dublin suspect have become notorious in parts of England for attempted distraction thefts from jewellers and from women who they approach in the street and pretend to try and sell them jewellery, while trying to slip off their necklaces. Police alerts in England say the thieves have "olive coloured" skin and dark hair.

One jeweller in Cheshire, who had suffered repeated distraction thefts, was cautioned by police when he put up a sign in his window saying "no Eastern European or Gypsies", which was deemed to be racially offensive.

Members of the family first moved to Germany and from there to England and Ireland, according to sources in their home town in Transylvania.

The main suspect has attracted attention in the Romanian media because of the ostentation of his home, with several top-of-the-range cars parked in its driveway.

The extended family's fortunes have boomed in recent years, local people have told journalists, but none would say where their wealth has come from.

JIM CUSACK

Sunday Independent

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