Call Clouseau! 'Pink Panther' Thief Escapes From Swiss Jail

Jul 26, 2013
Originally published on July 29, 2013 11:01 am

David Niven's been dead for 30 years, so he can't be behind this:

"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 Friday." (Agence France-Presse, via GlobalPost)

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

As you might expect, Friday's escape reportedly involved a van that rammed through a gate, ladders that were used to get above barbed wire and gunfire from automatic weapons. No one was hurt, AFP says.

This gang earned the "Pink Panther" nickname because they once hid a diamond ring in a jar of face cream — just like the crooks did in one of the Pink Panther movies. As The New Yorker has written about the modern-day gang:

"All told, the Panthers have performed hundreds of robberies all over the world. The gang's cinematic name is an invention of the press: the police, after raiding one thief's apartment, found a blue-diamond ring, worth seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars, hidden inside a jar of face cream; a similar hiding place was used in one of the Peter Sellers films."

Oh, and about that David Niven reference. Here's how begins its synopsis of the plot of 1963's The Pink Panther:

"As a child, Princess Dala receives a gift from her father, the Shah of Lugash: the Pink Panther, the largest diamond in the world. This huge pink gem has an unusual flaw: looking deeply into the stone, one perceives a tiny discoloration resembling a leaping pink panther hence the name. As the camera moves in, this image comes to life and participates in the credits. When Dala is a young woman, rebels seize power in Lugash and then demand possession of the jewel, but the exiled princess refuses to hand it over.

"Dala (Claudia Cardinale) relaxes on holiday at an exclusive skiing resort in Cortina d'Ampezzo, where noted British playboy Sir Charles Lytton (David Niven), who leads a secret life as a jewel thief called 'The Phantom,' has his eyes on the Pink Panther. His American playboy nephew, George (Robert Wagner), follows his uncle to the resort hoping to steal the jewel and blame it on the Phantom, not realizing that the Phantom is his uncle."

Peter Sellers, the original Inspector Clouseau in the movies, died in 1980. Herbert Lom, who played the exasperated police chief Dreyfus, died in 2012. The movies' director, Blake Edwards, died in 2010.

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Let's fade down that dramatic music now for this next item, which could be summed up by the fake film title "Pink Panther Thief Escapes." Yesterday, Milan Poparic, a member of the Pink Panther jewel thief gang, escaped from a Swiss prison. The Bosnian national had been serving time for robbing a jewelry store in 2009, and this was some jailbreak. Accomplices rammed the gates of the prison compound with two vehicles.

They set up ladders so Poparic and another inmate could climb over the prison wall, and they kept guards at bay with automatic weapons fire. No one was injured.


SIEGEL: Interpol dubbed this gang of international jewel thieves The Pink Panthers after British police discovered a stolen diamond ring in a jar of face cream. That same thing happened in the classic 1964 comedy. The Pink Panther gang has gotten around. It's believed to be behind thefts in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the United States of as much as $400 million worth of jewelry.

As for the escape of Poparic, if this were a movie, it would be part of a trilogy. He is the third member of the Pink Panthers to have broken out of a Swiss prison in the past several months.


SIEGEL: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.