MILAN (Reuters Life!) - Gems from a collection once owned by the late first lady of Argentina Eva Peron, which had been stolen in Spain two years ago, were found in a luxury hotel in Milan, Italian police said on Wednesday.
The jewels, worth 6 million euro ($8.6 million), include a set of diamond rings, earrings and a tiara given to Peron, who was known as “Evita,” by the Dutch royal family.
Lieutenant-Colonel Antonino Bolognani from Milan’s investigative force told a news conference the occupants of the hotel room were on the run.
They are part a group from Serbia who had lived outside of Milan and set up scams involving fake bank notes organized through the Internet.
Posing as sheiks and Middle Eastern investors the thieves persuaded the owners of the Joyas Sofia jewelry shop in Valencia, Spain to sell them the collection, acquired from Peron’s heirs after her death.
During a meeting in December 2009, the thieves asked the jewelers to put the gems on a desk while they counted the 10 million euros payment.
“Under the desk was hiding one of the accomplices, substituting the real money with fake bank notes under the eyes of the victims,” Bolognani told reporters.
The sellers suspected something was wrong and the thieves ran, grabbing the jewels. After months of investigations by Spanish and Italian police six of the gang members were arrested in Spain in May 2010 and another man was held in Milan.
When police broke into the Italian hotel room on Tuesday a member of the gang escaped, leaving behind him about three quarters of the missing jewels.
Evita died of cancer in 1952 and her husband Juan Peron was ousted by a coup three years later. He returned from exile to become president again in 1973 but died a year later.
Reporting by Chiara Prazzoli; editing by Patricia Reaney