Prison error releases robber too early

A 30-year-old convicted thief who was released from prison in Upper Austria three years too early because of an embarrassing computer error is a member of the notorious Pink Panther gang, the Austrian Press Agency reports.

Prison error releases robber too early
Garsten prison. Photo: APA/Rubra

Serbian Ilija B took part in the armed robbery of a jewellery shop in Eisenstadt in November 2005.

A 22-year-old watchmaker who had followed the masked gang as they were driving off in their getaway car was shot in the face by one of the thieves at close range. He needed full time care after the attack and died seven years later from his injuries.

Austrian detectives tracked down Ilija B and two other Serbs and they were arrested in Serbia in December 2006, for the brutal jewellery shop robbery as well as numerous other burglaries.

However the Serbian authorities released Ilija B and one other suspect, Slavko P, days later, for reasons unknown.

Ilja B was later sentenced in Germany for six and half years for aggravated robbery. After serving half of his sentence he was extradited to Austria, and given an additional six year sentence for the Eisenstadt robbery.

He should have been in jail until autumn 2017 but the prison computer in Garsten miscalculated his release date, failing to include the three years of the German sentence he still had to serve.

After his release he was banned from living in Austria and deported to Serbia. There is now a European arrest warrant out for him as he was due to be the star witness at Slavko P’s trial for murder and robbery in Eisenstadt on October 15th.

Peter Prechtl, head of the prison directorate, said there would now be a review of all discharge data in local prisons after the embarrassing mistake.

"Of course this mistake hurts, but the prison employees are basically good people," Prechtl said.

It is customary that two prison officers check all personal data for prisoners, including release dates, but in future a senior officer or prison director will also be checking any data for serious criminals, he added.

The Pink Panthers group is behind armed robberies targeting high-end jewellery stores in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the United States.

They are believed to have carried out robberies worth in excess of €330 million since 1999. Hundreds of suspects are linked to more than 340 robberies in 35 countries.

Many gang members are known to originate from the former Yugoslavia, but they work across countries and continents.

The Panthers got their nickname after a diamond stolen during a raid in London was later found hidden in a jar of face cream, copying a tactic used in the original 1963 Pink Panther crime comedy, starring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau.

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EXPLAINED: What to do if you experience online abuse in Austria

Following the suicide of an Austrian doctor who received threats from Covid-19 anti-vaccination activists, the government has now launched a new campaign to help victims of online abuse.

EXPLAINED: What to do if you experience online abuse in Austria

The Austrian medical community was left in shock in July when Lisa-Maria Kellermayr, a local doctor in Seewalchen am Attersee in Upper Austria, took her own life following months of online abuse.

Kellermayr, 36, had been targeted by anti-vaccination activists and Covid-19 conspiracy theorists for her out-spoken support of vaccines, and the abuse even included death threats. 

Her death prompted candlelight vigils and demonstrations in Vienna and the tragic story was picked up by news outlets around the world.

READ MORE: How Austria’s attempt to make vaccines mandatory changed the country

This led to calls for tighter laws against online bullying and the ability for perpetrators to be prosecuted in other EU countries – particularly as at least two of the people who are believed to have targeted Kellermayr are based in Germany, according to the Guardian.

The Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) has even called for the creation of a special public prosecutor’s office to deal with “hate-on-the-net”, but this has been rejected by prosecutors and other political parties, as reported by ORF.

Instead, the Federal Justice Department has launched a new information campaign, website and hotline to help people dealing with online abuse.

FOR MEMBERS: What happens if you get arrested in Austria?

What is in the new campaign?

Austria’s Justice Minister Alma Zadic (Greens) said they have launched the campaign to raise awareness about the issue and to inform victims about the support available.

Zadic said: “It is important to me that those affected know that they are not alone in this situation and that the judiciary supports them with free psychological and legal process support.”

“You don’t have to cope alone with the extraordinary burdens that criminal proceedings can entail, for example through confrontation with the perpetrators.”

READ ALSO: Austria in shock over doctor’s suicide following anti-vax abuse

Part of the support package is the new website Hilfe bei Gewalt (Help with Violence), which details how to access help from the authorities, as well as secure free legal advice and representation from a lawyer.

The website states the service is for victims of bullying and/or hate online, defamation, stalking, terrorism, incitement, sexual violence and robbery.

The service is designed to be anonymous with options to contact the Justice Department by phone or via a chat box. The website also lists contact details for regional support services in all provinces across Austria. 

The free (kostenlos) hotline for Hilfe bei Gewalt is 0800 112 112.

Useful links

Hilfe bei Gewalt

Austrian Federal Justice Department