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Wanted and still on the run, Mexican 'mastermind'  Maria  Zuluaga

Phuket Gems Gang Member Confesses to Bangkok Heist and Sales in Malaysia

Thursday, May 17, 2012
PHUKET: A Malaysian woman accused of being part of a 30 million baht gems heist on Phuket has confessed to a similar six-million baht raid that took place in Bangkok last month.

Roslina Binti Abu Bakar, 42, told Phuket police that she left it to the other members of the 'Trang Gang' to steal the gems.

Her role, she said, would have been to onsell the gems stolen in the Phuket heist on Monday, just as she had onsold the goods from the April 11 raid in Bangkok in Malaysia.

Another member of the gang, Mexican Ruben Dario Zapata Gonzalez, 41, asked Phuket police today: ''Did they get all the jewellery back?''

His question seemed aimed at finding out more about the status of his fellow Mexican, Maria Assenth Melia Zuluaga, 57, who tonight remains a wanted woman on the run, possibly with a quarter of the loot from Monday's Phuket raid to buy her way to freedom.

After she and the other members of the 'Trang Gang' were arrested within hours of Monday's robbery, Ms Zuluaga somehow managed to escape.

Whether she has 170 pieces of gold jewellery to help her flee Thailand and capture has yet to be determined.

But 600 pieces of jewellery were stolen from a van on Phuket in Monday's bold raid, and only 430 pieces have been recovered.

When the gang was pulled over in the southern province of Trang as they headed towards the Malaysian border, four foreigners and the Thai driver were in the hands of police.

Within hours, the credit for the arrest of the gang had lost some of its glitter for Trang police as they were unable to account for Ms Zuluaga - said to be the mastermind behind the gems job - and those missing 170 items.

A combined task force of police from Phuket and Trang is now investigating the case. The possiblity of involvement by local officers in Ms Zuluaga's toilet-break escape cannot be discounted at this stage.

Wanted posters of her are expected to be plastered all over Trang and other southern provinces.

When police busted the gang, they found in their luggage a list of other jewellery and gems fairs around the world. The unusually disparate gang was likely to be aiming to build on its skills after the Bangkok and Phuket heists.

Another alleged 'Trang gang' member, Riza Balkan, 49, from Turkey, and the Thai driver of the getaway van were still being questioned in Trang today about drugs said to have been found in the van.

As Ms Bakar and Mr Gonzalez made their first appearance in a Phuket court, Ms Zuluaga was presumably enjoying her freedom somewhere.

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