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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 July, 2004, 13:06 GMT 14:06 UK
Men guilty of 23m gems robbery
Denic and Jovetic
Both men were convicted of conspiracy to rob - a third escaped
Two men have been found guilty of taking part in a 23m diamond robbery.

Serbian-born Nebojsa Denic is thought to be part of a Balkan gang which robbed jewellers throughout Europe.

He and his boss, known as Marco, took three minutes to steal the gems from Graff jewellers in Mayfair, central London last year. Marco escaped.

Denic was convicted of conspiracy to rob, as was Montenegro national Milan Jovetic who admitted helping Marco escape with the diamonds.

Only 3m of the gems have been recovered - one, a 500,000 blue diamond ring was found in a jar of baby cream at Jovetic's house in Bayswater, west London.

Hospital cleaner Denic, 34, travelled from his home in Switzerland to London on a 50 flight a week before the robbery, and wore a curly black wig during the hold-up.

'I thought he would shoot me'

Staff at the exclusive jewellers noticed the obvious hairpiece but thought nothing of it because they often deal with celebrities in disguise, the court heard.

Denic pointed a Magnum gun at staff as Marco escaped with the jewels.

But he was grabbed by security guard Simon Steerman, who refused to release him from a bear-hug.

Mr Steerman said: "I was in fear that somebody was going to get killed and I knew I had to take him to the ground.

Graff
Graff jewellers has several celebrity clients
"I thought if I let him go, he would shoot me anyway."

As they fell, Denic's gun went off and the bullet ricocheted off a building and hit a woman in the face, causing a nosebleed.

The court heard Marco fled to Hammersmith in a panic, telling Jovetic he "had lost a man". Jovetic helped him escape.

Denic was cleared of a charge of attempted grievous bodily harm but was also convicted of two firearms offences.

He had denied conspiracy to rob, saying he was forced into it because Marco's friends had threatened his family.

The trial heard the men had planned to rob the store several days earlier, but delayed after hearing a police helicopter overhead.

'European crime syndicate'

Police believe Denic and Marco were members of a Balkan group, known as the Pink Panther gang, which is being investigated over a 17m theft in Tokyo.

Marco is also wanted for questioning by police in Spain, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany in connection with armed jewel raids.

Outside court, Det Insp Andy Dunn, who lead the investigation said: "This was a planned raid on an exclusive jewellers by an organised Eastern European crime syndicate.

"They carried out reconnaissance checks on the store before they robbed it, and were prepared to use real firearms to commit the robbery and get away.

Denic and Jovetic are due to be sentenced on Wednesday.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Luisa Baldini
"The police are still trying to recover most of the diamonds"



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