Scotland Yard believe the thieves behind a heist that saw £4.2m diamonds swapped for pebbles have links to suspected Russian gangsters and are potentially seasoned criminals.
Lulu Lakatos, 60, had posed as a gemmologist called ‘Anna’ to arrange an inspection of the seven diamond-studded rings with Boodles boss Nicholas Wainwright – supposedly to value them for wealthy Russian clients.
While Lakatos was jailed for five-and-a-half years earlier this week, the two female associates also believed to have been involved in the grab, as well as the £4.2m diamonds, remain missing.
Today, the chief investigating officer says he believes Lakatos and her fellow international thieves have worked on heists at least once before, and have links with suspected Russian gangsters.
Acting Detective Sergeant William Man, the individual heading up the chase for the two get-away women who remain undiscovered after the heist, says police have intel on at least one previous job the gang had undertaken.
He told the Times of another heist in Europe: ‘We know one previous job has been confirmed. A case is being built at the moment.
‘From the one they were brazen enough to do here you wouldn’t think it was a one-off. We think there’s a bigger picture, potentially a link to Russians.’
Lulu Lakatos, 60, (right) was jailed for more than five years, but her two female accomplices (pictured left) and the £4.2m diamonds have not yet been found
After being caught, Lakatos (pictured in a mugshot) claimed Anna was her younger sister, Liliana, who had confessed to using Lulu’s passport to commit the crime months before she died in a car crash, aged 49, in Romania in October 2019
CCTV footage shows the moment Lakatos swiped £4.2million worth of gems under the noses of staff at London society jeweller Boodles – as she was jailed for five-and-a-half years for the Ocean’s Eleven-style heist.
At the crucial moment, she arranged for a telephone call to take Mr Wainwright away and put a padlocked purse containing the diamonds into her handbag in front of another employee, as shown on the store’s CCTV.
Diamond expert Emma Barton immediately challenged her, at which point the Romanian pulled off an astonishing sleight of hand, swapping the jewel-laden purse with a precise replica weighed down with pebbles.
Ms Barton raised suspicions but the gems – believed to have been concealed in a hidden compartment – were not found in the Lakatos’ handbag, as she used the pretence of poor English to suggest a misunderstanding.
She left the Bond Street store where four accomplices were waiting outside before putting the gems into the handbag of an unknown woman. She and the international gang of grifters 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.
After being caught, Lakatos claimed Anna was her younger sister, Liliana, who had confessed to using Lulu’s passport to commit the crime months before she died in a car crash, aged 49, in Romania in October 2019.
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.’
Police believe the heist involved six accomplices, two of whom – Christophe Stankovic and Mikhael Jovanovic – are already behind bars, having been convicted last year.
‘Anna’ left the store shortly after noon and was met by Stankovic and Jovanovic’s two female accomplices. CCTV footage shows her dropping the diamonds into one of their handbags before returning to the Willow Walk pub.
She and the accomplice then travelled to King’s Cross and caught a Eurostar train to Paris.
Meanwhile, Stankovic and Jovanovic and the two women hailed separate taxis and asked to be taken to the Gants Hill roundabout in east London.
It would have been the perfect crime, but for painstaking work by Scotland Yard’s Flying Squad who traced Stankovic through the hire car’s number plate and Jovanovic via his Eurostar tickets. It’s unclear what led them to Lakatos.
Detective Man, of Flying Squad, refused to confirm where the gang’s previous heist had occurred, or what was stolen.
Lulu Lakatos is seen bundling a jewel-laden purse into her handbag – as she is challenged by Boodles diamond expert Emma Barton
Diamond expert Emma Barton immediately challenged her, at which point the Romanian pulled off an astonishing sleight of hand, swapping the jewel-laden purse with a precise replica weighed down with pebbles
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 by a majority of 10 to one after nine hours and 19 minutes of deliberations.
Pictured: Lakatos leaving the premises
‘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,’ 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,’ the judge told Lakatos.
‘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.’
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.
She had 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 Wetherspoon 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 put into a zippable purse-like bag that was padlocked shut.
He told the court: ‘Anna was most unattractive, she was overweight, she was dressed most extraordinarily, she was wearing the sort of thing a Russian dancer would wear.
‘She had enormous boobs and you could see her cleavage, it was most unattractive.’ He added, ‘I was watching her like a hawk,’ but said he was distracted by a call from the fake Russian buyer.’
The moment Lakatos produced a replica purse from her handbag, which she later handed over to Ms Barton. Her bag was examined by the jewels were not found
Some of the gems that Lakatos stole in the audacious theft in central London – including a 3.03 carat ring worth more than £1m
The pebbles that Lakatos had used to weigh down an identical bag to the one containing the jems, which she handed to staff
The replica padlocked bag used by the gang – who were able to spirit the real jewels away before being tracked down
Lakatos outside Boodles on the day of the heist where she switched the padlocked bag with a duplicate one already stored within her handbag containing seven pebbles of the same weight as the diamonds
She stayed in Cricklewood before the theft, and then fled the country having dumped her disguise in a Victoria JD Wetherspoon pub toilet
Ms Barton said Anna 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’.’
Mr Wainwright was told what she had done when he returned and he demanded ‘Anna’ empty her bag – but the stones had been concealed and she was allowed to leave.
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.
Nicholas Wainwright, Chairman of Boodles, which was hit by a £4.2million diamond theft
Later Mr Wainwright listened in on his phone as one of the Boodles staff members opened the bag and gasped: ‘Oh my God, it’s pebbles’.
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.
Romanian-born Lakatos, from Saint-Brieuc, Brittany, has three previous convictions for theft in France.
Lakatos was part of a gang of grifters who had been travelling Europe trying to rip of banks and jewellers with her amazing sleight of hand.
Her sister Liliana walked off with the Euro 400,000 on 15 October 2014 from AEK Bank in Oberhofen in Bern, Switzerland.
Liliana switched an envelope containing eight bundles of euros for a similar envelope containing worthless paper while AEK executive Reta Hartmann was distracted by a phone-call during their meeting in a Swiss bank vault.
Swiss police later identified the woman who swapped the envelopes as a Lakatos but for some reason she was never arrested or charged.
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.’