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Monday 19 February 2018

'Pink Panther' jewel thief escapes from Swiss jail

Fugitives Adrian Albrecht, left, and Milan Poparic
Fugitives Adrian Albrecht, left, and Milan Poparic

Tony Paterson

Police across Europe are hunting for a leading member of the infamous "Pink Panther" gang of international jewel thieves who staged a spectacular breakout from a Swiss jail aided by accomplices firing automatic weapons.

Convicted jewel thief Milan Poparic (34) and a fellow inmate, Swiss kidnapper Adrian Albrecht (52), escaped from the prison in Orbe, western Switzerland, on Thursday.

The jailbreak was launched during an exercise period when a van rammed open a prison gate and smashed through barbed wire separating the gate from the yard inside.

"The guards were pinned down by automatic weapons fire. Fortunately, no one was injured," a police spokesman said.

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The escapees and their accomplices then set fire to the van and fled in a second vehicle. Police sent 12 patrol cars in pursuit, and as Orbe lies 10 miles from the French border, French police were also involved.

Yesterday police said that although Interpol had been alerted, the hunt was continuing. Poparic, who was serving a six-year sentence for a 2009 jewel robbery, was the third Pink Panther member to escape from a Swiss prison since May.

The gang is estimated to have carried out at least 150 robberies and stolen £200m (€230m) in jewels since raiding a shop in London in 2003. The gang earned its Pink Panther nickname after British police found a diamond ring they had stolen buried in a jar of face cream, echoing an incident in the film starring Peter Sellers.

At its core, the gang comprises jewel thieves said to originate from Montenegro's Cetinje region. But according to Interpol, over the past decade it has grown to incorporate a wider alliance of criminals from across the Balkans.

Since 2003 the Pink Panthers have raided jewellers in countries as far apart as the United Arab Emirates, Japan, Switzerland, Britain, France and Monaco. The so-called "white glove" crooks are notorious for the cool precision of their raids. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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