DUBAI // A member of the Pink Panther gang responsible for an audacious Dh15 million jewel heist in Dubai has escaped from prison in Switzerland.
Milan Poparic, 34, from Bosnia, and two accomplices fled the jail in the Swiss canton of Vaud late on Saturday night while firing gunshots at guards, Swiss police said yesterday.
Poparic was sentenced to six years and eight months for robbing a jewellery store in Neuchatel, Switzerland, in 2009.
In April 2007, members of the Pink Panther gang carried out Dubai’s biggest robbery. They drove two stolen Audi A8s through the glass facade of Wafi City mall to the House of Graff jewellers, where they stole diamonds worth an estimated Dh14.7m at gunpoint before speeding away.
The Pink Panther gang are named after the 1963 movie starring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau and are linked to organised crime in Serbia.
There is no evidence to suggest that Poparic was involved in the Dubai robbery, though he is a member of the gang, which has stolen almost Dh1.5 billion worth of gems in 90 robberies in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the US, according to Interpol.
The gang’s key members are thought to come from Serbia and Montenegro. They target upmarket jewellers and usually take less than a minute to carry out a robbery.
In the Wafi City heist, three men used hammers to smash through a glass display cabinet and gain entry to the store before gathering up the jewels in black sacks.
Seconds later, the robbers returned calmly to their vehicles where a fourth gang member, a woman, was waiting. They then sped off into the night.
Two Serbian men were arrested, a businessman and a visitor. The businessman was convicted and sentenced to 10 years for aiding and abetting the crime while the visitor was acquitted. The other gang members involved in that raid remain at large.
According to Ronald Noble, Interpol’s secretary general, the Dubai investigation led to the arrest of a number of members of the gang in Europe.
“If it were not for the great investigative work of Dubai Police and their sharing of evidence with us, we would not have been able to break the Pink Panther case the way that we have,” he said in 2011.
He said Interpol had no idea the gang were operating globally until the Wafi robbery. Originally, an investigation into the gang was focused on Europe but the evidence provided by Dubai Police changed that.
“Dubai Police sent four DNA specimens to Interpol and two of those were matched with specimens we received from Liechtenstein. Suddenly, we knew we no longer had just a European crime group but a global, organised operation,” Mr Noble said.
“Later, we were able to link another robbery that occurred in Tokyo and we found out that the first robbery they committed was in the US, in Hawaii, in 1990.”
Interpol launched a dedicated task force in response to the Wafi investigation findings. The investigation team is made up of 76 members from 26 countries.