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Member of notorious 'Pink Panther' jewel thief gang escapes from Swiss prison

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Milan Poparic, a 24-year-old Bosnian national and member of the infamous "Pink Panther" ring of jewelry thieves, has escaped from a Swiss prison with a fellow inmate and two accomplices. The escape was pretty low-tech: two accomplices drove up to the prison yard with ladders, then used machine guns to drive the guards back as Poparic and his fellow inmate Adrian Albrecht, 52, climbed over the fence. Security guards took cover while the criminals set fire to one of their vehicles and drove off in the other.

The loosely-affiliated, global group of dozens to hundreds of thieves is known for its daring heists. The nickname "Pink Panthers" comes from the theft of a $769,000 diamond from a London jeweler in 1993. The thieves hid the diamond in a jar of face cream, a trick used in the 1963 Pink Panther film starring Peter Sellers.

"The Pink Panthers' methods are daring and quick. A case that made the headlines in 2007 saw gang members drive two cars into a shopping mall in Dubai and through the window of a jewelry store," says Interpol. "The robbery took less than one minute and the gang made away with jewelry worth an estimated 11 million euros."

"The Pink Panthers' methods are daring and quick."

Interpol estimates the ring has stolen $400 million worth of jewels since 1999. Last week's escape is the latest in a string of Panther prison breaks. In July 2012, a member of the gang escaped from a prison in Athens by knocking out a guard and stealing her keys. In May 2013, another member escaped from a prison in Switzerland with the help of three accomplices.

A Swiss official said the breakout was clearly organized by the Panthers. "This is an invasion, rather than an escape, orchestrated by a heavily armed organized gang," said Beatrice Metraux, head of the interior department that includes responsibility for prisons in the state where the prison is located.

Interpol did not immediately respond to a request for comment.