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Friday
Jul262013

'Pink Panther' Makes Spectacular Escape from Swiss Prison

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A spectacular Swiss jailbreak has freed a member of the notorious Pink Panther gang of jewel thieves.

The escapee was the third member of the Pink Panthers to get busted out of jail in recent months.

In a twist, a second man who fled during Thursday's jail break had escaped from the same prison once before in 1992.

Interpol has described the Pink Panthers as a loose network of about 200 criminals, mainly from the former Yugoslavia, who are linked to 341 robberies worth $438 million from gem shops in Dubai, Switzerland, the U.S., Japan, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Monaco.

Milan Poparic, 34, a Bosnian member of the jewelry gang, was sprung on Thursday from the Orbe prison in Switzerland's western canton of Vaud.

The two convicts escaped after a pair of accomplices rammed a pickup van into a side gate during exercise time, placed ladders over a barbed wire fence and sprayed prison guards with Kalashnikovs rifles. No one was injured.

The accomplices set the pickup van on fire and escaped with the prisoners in a second vehicle.

Poparic was serving a sentence of six years and eight months in Switzerland for robbing a jewelry shop in Neuchatel in 2009. Until a year ago, he was serving his sentence in another prison in Bellevue.

He fled with Adrian Albrecht, 52, who was serving a seven year sentence for kidnapping, arson and money laundering. Albrecht has already escaped from the same jail in 1992, according to police.

"We never had any problem with Poparic," says Anthony Brovarone, a communication officer for all five jails in Vaud canton. "He was supposed to be free in January 2014, less than six months from now. We had no reason to fear he would try to escape."

"We were never told by Bellevue that Poparic was a member of Pink Panther group," said Brovarone. There is a high-security part of the Orbe prison, but the two prisoners were not in it. "Had we known, Poparic would have been placed there," the officer said.

Poparic's escape followed another jailbreak by five prisoners, including two Pink Panther members, from the Bois-Mermet prison near Lausanne in May.

On May 14 three masked men helped the five inmates to escape from Bois-Mermet after throwing a bag containing cutting gear and a fake pistol into a prison courtyard. The group drove off in two getaway vehicles.

"It's the same modus operandi. This type of outside accomplice is an extremely new phenomenon in Switzerland," Brovarone said. He said prison guards do not carry guns were under instructions not to do anything in order to avoid casualties.

Investigators, marveling at the gem gang's ingenuity, dubbed the network the Pink Panthers after British detectives found a diamond ring worth $750,000 hidden in a jar of face cream, similar to a hiding place in the 1963 comedy The Pink Panther.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio