A woman has been found guilty and sentenced to five and a half years in prison for stealing diamonds worth £4.2m, swapping them for pebbles in a plot akin to a Hollywood heist movie.
Lulu Lakatos, 60, posed as gem expert “Anna” sent to the luxury jewellers Boodles, in Mayfair, London, in March 2016 to value the stones on behalf of supposed wealthy Russian buyers.
Prosecutors said it was the highest-value theft of its kind ever committed in the UK.
The seven diamonds, including one worth £2.2m, were to be placed in a padlocked purse and held in the New Bond Street store’s vault until funds were transferred.
But CCTV footage from the family firm’s basement showroom captured the moment the purse was put into Lakatos’ handbag and switched for a duplicate in seconds using “sleight of hand”.
Nicholas Wainwright, the chair of Boodles, had briefly left to talk on the phone to an apparent Russian buyer named “Alexander” whom he had met over lunch at the Hotel Metropole, Monaco.
The jewellers’ diamond expert, Emma Barton, raised suspicions but the diamonds, believed to have been concealed in a hidden compartment, were not found in Lakatos’ handbag. She left the shop before switching the gems to the handbag of an unknown woman, and 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. The diamonds have never been recovered.
Lakatos claimed Anna was in fact her late younger sister, Liliana Lakatos, who had confessed to using the former’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 (£340,000) was switched for a duplicate filled with paper.
But on Wednesday Lulu Lakatos was found guilty at Southwark crown court of conspiracy to steal on or before 10 March 2016, by a jury majority of 10 to one after nine hours and 19 minutes of deliberation.
The judge, Emma Goodall QC, said she would sentence Lakatos later on Wednesday.
Romanian-born Lakatos, from Saint-Brieuc, Brittany, has three previous convictions for theft in France. She arrived in London the day before the theft and was seen on CCTV with Georgeta Danila, 53, entering the Cricklewood Lodge Hotel, London, before making a reconnaissance trip to Boodles with Christophe Stankovic and Mickael Jovanovic.
Danila waited in the Willow Walk pub, in the Victoria area of London, with a change of clothes for Lakatos, who went to Boodles disguised in a long dark coat, brimmed hat and long scarf.
Wainwright escorted her down a glass spiral staircase into the meeting room with Barton, where Lakatos examined and weighed the diamonds.
Wainwright 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 Barton said Anna put the locked purse into her own handbag when Wainwright went upstairs to take a call from “Alexander”.
Barton said, giving evidence: “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. 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 via 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 had been involved in the crime.