Moment woman steals £4.2m of diamonds from jewellers by swapping them for pebbles

28 July 2021, 17:41 | Updated: 28 July 2021, 17:54

By Patrick Grafton-Green

This is the moment a woman stole £4.2 million worth of diamonds by swapping them for pebbles in the biggest theft of its kind.

Lulu Lakatos, 60, posed as gem expert "Anna" to swipe the seven stones from luxury Mayfair jewellers Boodles in a plot reminiscent of a Hollywood heist movie.

She was sent to value the diamonds on behalf of supposed wealthy Russian buyers.

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They were to be placed in a padlocked purse and held in the store's vault until funds were transferred, but CCTV footage from the basement showroom captured the moment the purse was put into Lakatos's handbag and switched for a duplicate in seconds using "sleight of hand".

The family firm's boss Nicholas Wainwright had briefly left to talk on the phone to apparent Russian buyer "Alexander", who he had met over lunch at Monaco's Hotel Metropole.

The jewellers' diamond expert, Emma Barton, raised suspicions but the diamonds were not found in Lakatos's handbag during a search.

They are believed to have been concealed in a hidden compartment and, when Lakatos left the shop, she switched the gems to the handbag of an unknown woman.

Lakatos has been jailed for more than five years
Lakatos has been jailed for more than five years. Picture: Met 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, there were seven small garden pebbles inside, and the real diamonds have never been recovered.

Lakatos was jailed for five-and-a-half years.

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."

The seven diamonds were swapped for pebbles
The seven diamonds were swapped for pebbles. Picture: Met Police

Lakatos 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.

But Lulu Lakatos sobbed in the dock after she was found guilty of conspiracy to steal on or before March 10, 2016 by a jury at Southwark Crown Court.

Judge Emma Goodall QC said: "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."

The bag that contained the pebbles
The bag that contained the pebbles. Picture: Met Police

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."

Romanian-born Lakatos, from Saint-Brieuc, Brittany, has three previous convictions for theft in France.

Lakatos at the Cricklewood Lodge Hotel where she stayed before the heist
Lakatos at the Cricklewood Lodge Hotel where she stayed before the heist. Picture: Met Police

She 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 before making a reconnaissance trip to Boodles with Christophe Stankovic and Mickael Jovanovic.

Danila waited in the Willow Walk pub in Victoria with a change of clothes for Lakatos, who went to Boodles disguised in a long dark coat, brimmed hat and long scarf.

Mr Wainwright escorted her down a glass spiral staircase into the meeting room with Ms Barton, where Lakatos examined and weighed the diamonds.

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 then put into a zippable purse-like bag that was padlocked shut.

But Ms Barton said "Anna" put the locked purse into her handbag when Mr Wainwright went upstairs to take a call from "Alexander".

Lakatos disguised herself in a long dark coat, brimmed hat and long scarf
Lakatos disguised herself in a long dark coat, brimmed hat and long scarf. Picture: Met Police

"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'."

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.

Stankovic and Jovanovic 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.