A jewel thief who stole seven diamonds worth more than £4 million by swapping them for pebbles in the biggest ever heist of its kind has been jailed.
Lulu Lakatos swiped the stones from luxury jewellers Boodles, in London’s West End, in March 2016 after posing as a gem expert called ‘Anna’.
The heist, which was likened to one from a Hollywood movie, saw ‘Anna’ sent to value the diamonds on behalf of supposed wealthy Russian buyers.
The diamonds, worth £4.2 million, were to be placed in a padlocked purse and held in the vaults of the New Bond Street store until funds were transferred.
However, 60-year-old Lakatos managed to swipe the purse and place it in her handbag while switching it for a duplicate in mere seconds by using “sleight of hand”, a court heard.
The moment was captured on a CCTV camera in the family firm’s basement showroom.
Boodles boss Nicholas Wainwright had briefly left to talk on the phone to the apparent Russian buyer, named ‘Alexander’, who he had previously met over lunch.
The jewellers’ diamond expert, Emma Barton, raised suspicions about Lakatos and the diamond thief had her handbag searched, but nothing was found.
It is believed that the diamonds were concealed in a hidden compartment.
Lakatos left the shop before switching the gems to the handbag of an unknown woman.
(Image: Metropolitan Police)
The international gang of criminals fled the UK for France in less than three hours.
When the purse in Boodles’ safe was opened the following day, inside were seven small garden pebbles, and the real diamonds have never been recovered.
Prosecutor Oliver Mosley said: “This was a conspiracy of the highest sophistication.
“It is believed to be the highest value individual theft offence of this kind ever committed in this country.”
Lakatos sobbed in the dock after she was found guilty of conspiracy to steal by a jury at Southwark Crown Court by a majority of 10 to one after nine hours and 19 minutes of deliberations.
She had claimed ‘Anna’ was her younger sister, Liliana Lakatos, who had confessed to using Lulu Lakatos’s passport to commit the crime months before she died in a car crash, aged 49, in Romania in October 2019.
Liliana Lakatos was wanted in Switzerland for an almost identical plot, where an envelope containing 400,000 euros was switched for a duplicate filled with paper.
Romanian-born Lulu Lakatos, from Saint-Brieuc, Brittany, has three previous convictions for theft in France.
(Image: Metropolitan Police)
Sentencing her to five-and-a-half years in prison, Judge Emma Goodall QC told Lakatos: “You have been convicted of conspiring to steal diamonds, the jury having rejected your defence it was your deceased sister and not you who perpetrated the offence.
“This was a highly sophisticated and audacious offence in terms of planning, risk and reward, an offence in respect of which you played an integral role.
“You spent almost an hour in the Boodles London showroom exploiting their trust, which allowed you to engage in a brazen deception and through sleight of hand you stole seven diamonds valued at £4.2 million.”
Flying Squad Acting Detective Sergeant William Man said the investigation is still ongoing to identify others involved in the heist.
He said: “This was an audacious theft, carried out in plain view of experienced and professional staff at a renowned jewellers.
“The meticulous planning and execution of this theft reveals to me that those involved were highly skilled criminals.”
Senior Crown Prosecution Service prosecutor Thomas Short added: “Lulu Lakatos’ actions were criminal.
“She played an integral part in an audacious swoop that could be likened to a scene from a Hollywood film.”
The court heard how Lakatos arrived in London the day before the theft and was captured on CCTV with Georgeta Danila, 53, entering the Cricklewood Lodge Hotel in north London.
After being escorted into the Boodles vaults, Lakatos, who was wearing a long dark coat, brimmed hat and long scarf at the time of the heist, examined and weighed the diamonds in the presence of Ms Barton and Mr Wainwright.
The Boodles chairman said he was “watching her like a hawk” as she wrapped the diamonds individually in pre-cut tissue paper and placed them inside opaque boxes, which were put into a zippable purse-like bag that was padlocked shut.
But Ms Barton said Lakatos put the locked purse into her own handbag when Mr Wainwright went upstairs to take a call from ‘Alexander’.
“She watched Nicholas walk up the stairs and as soon as his back was turned on the spiral staircase, she grabbed the bag and stuck it in her handbag,” she said, giving evidence.
“I said, ‘no, no, no, you can’t do that. Please take the diamonds out of your handbag now. I have to be able to see the diamonds at all times’.
“In English, she replied, ‘It’s OK, don’t worry, there’s nothing to worry about’.”
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After leaving the store, Lakatos switched the diamonds to the bag of one of two unknown young women before discarding her disguise and leaving London for France on the Eurostar with Danila.
Christophe Stankovic and Mickael Jovanovic, who had been seen making an earlier reconnaissance trip to Boodles with Lakatos, left with the two younger women in a rented car through the Channel Tunnel.
Both men were jailed for three years and eight months after pleading guilty to conspiracy to steal, while Danila was acquitted after telling a jury she had no idea she was involved in the crime.
Ioana Nedelcu, defending Lakatos, said the masterminds have never been caught.