'Pink Panther' jewel thief breaks out of Swiss jail

GENEVA (AFP) - A Bosnian from the "Pink Panther" gang of international jewel thieves escaped from a Swiss prison in a dramatic break-out involving a fellow inmate and two armed accomplices, police said on Friday.

Milan Poparic, who was serving a sentence of almost seven years for a 2009 robbery at a jewellery store, is the third "Pink Panther" to escape from a Swiss prison since May.

Along with convicted Swiss kidnapper, arsonist and money-launderer Adrian Albrecht, Poparic broke out of the Orbe prison in western Switzerland on Thursday evening, local police said in a statement.

During an exercise period, the accomplices rammed a gate and barbed wire with a van, before using ladders to create an escape route across the prison's fence. They set fire to the van and made off with Poparic and Albrecht in a second vehicle.

Prison guards came under constant automatic weapons wire to stop them foiling the escape, but no one was injured.

Police said they had launched a manhunt involving more than a dozen patrols from various Swiss law enforcement agencies, as well as their French counterparts - Orbe lies just 16km from the border with France.

The "Pink Panthers", most of whose members are from the Balkans, have become known for jewel heists around the globe.

They earned their nickname after British detectives found a diamond ring hidden in a jar of face cream, echoing an incident in Peter Sellers' 1963 comedy The Pink Panther.

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