A sixty-year-old woman was today found guilty of pulling off an Ocean's Eleven-style heist at London society jewellers Boodles by posing as a gem expert to swap £4.2million of diamonds for pebbles.
Lulu Lakatos claimed to be a gemologist called 'Anna' who had been sent to the luxury Mayfair jewellers to value the stones on behalf of wealthy Russian buyers.
The seven diamonds, including one worth £2.2 million, 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's handbag and switched for a duplicate in seconds using 'sleight of hand'.
Boodles 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.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
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's 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.
Prosecutors said it was the highest value theft offence of its kind ever committed in the UK.
Lulu Lakatos posed as gemologist 'Anna', who was sent to the luxury Mayfair jewellers to value the stones on behalf of supposed wealthy Russian buyers
Some of the gems that Lakatos stole in the audacious theft in central London
The most valuable of the gems, a heart-shaped diamond, was worth £2,215,138 alone.
Grey-haired and bespectacled Lakatos, who was wearing a mask in the dock, denied conspiracy to steal claiming the con was carried out by her sister who has since died in a car accident.
But she wept as she was convicted by the jury at Southwark Crown Court after 9 hours and 19 minutes of deliberations.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
Prosecutor Oliver Mosley said after the 10-to-two majority verdict was announced: 'This was a conspiracy of the highest sophistication, believed to be of the highest value of its kind ever committed in this country.
'Although it was a simple ruse, it was a highly sophisticated plan.'
Police likened the heist to the thefts portrayed in the Ocean's Eleven movie franchise, starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt.
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.
Two years later Mr Wainwright was contacted by a man calling himself Simon Glas, who claimed he was Israeli.
'He said he was interested in buying diamonds for investment and I had been recommended by a friend of mine called Jonathan Slater,' said Mr Wainwright.
The jeweller found the offer 'quite interesting' and the two men arranged to meet in Monaco to discuss the deal.
He met Mr Glas at the world famous Hotel de Paris on 2 March, where he was flanked by two Russian associates, one of whom called himself Alexander.
'He said he wanted to invest $13 million in diamonds and asked if we would take cash,' Mr Wainwright said.
'I said no, we can't take cash for that as that is effectively money laundering, it has to be electronic. I didn't want to knock the deal on the head so I kept talking.
'He said can I take 10 to 15 per cent cash, which I found slightly odd,' said Mr Wainwright.
After the meeting, the potential buyers 'left abruptly' and Mr Wainwright kept communicating with 'Alexander' to discuss potential gems to sell.
After they settled on seven items worth a total of £7,299,671, 'Alexander' asked for his gemologist to verify the diamonds, which agreed was 'fair enough'.
When 'Anna' arrived at the store on March 10 Mr Wainwright was 'surprised' by the fact she didn't speak very good English, although the two conversed in French.
He watched her 'like a hawk' as she assessed the jewellery, placed it small blue opaque boxes, and then in a black lockable bag.
Mr Wainwright told the court: 'This woman called 'Anna' looked strange.
'She didn't look at the stones through an eyeglass, as a gemmologist might do, and she didn't check their certificates.'
'Alexander' called Mr Wainwright but said he couldn't hear him very well.
Prosecutors said it was the highest value theft offence of its kind ever committed in the UK. Pictured: The London Boodles store
Assuming the bad signal of the basement was too blame, Mr Wainwright went up the staircase, leaving Anna alone with Boodles' gemmologist Emma Barton.
'When I came back four minutes later Emma looked quite a bit frightened,' he said.
'I asked 'are you alright' and she said that Anna had put the bag of diamonds in her handbag.
'Emma said 'I'm not happy', she had them in her bag and took them out very soon afterwards,' said Mr Wainwright.
He asked to search Anna's bag, and she reluctantly agreed, but he saw no sign of a locked bag containing the gems.
'I looked at the handbag for about ten seconds but I didn't see the bag, so I assumed it was on the table.
'In retrospect there were a lot of unusual things at the time but I didn't realise it.'
Mr Wainwright added: 'This woman called 'Anna' looked strange.
'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.'
Ms Barton told the jury: 'She came in wearing a camel coat.
'When she took it off, she was wearing a very low cut black dress. She was wearing a hat very low-down, so I couldn't see her forehead and she was wearing a pair of glasses with thick arms.
'She didn't use a loupe, a jeweller's eye glass. As a first point of call, that is what you would generally do.
'She had some gemmologist's equipment that she brought with her, scales, an ultraviolet light, and a thermal conductivity probe.
Nicholas Wainwright, Chairman of Boodles, which was hit by a £4.2million diamond theft
'She took each stone, weighed it, placed it under ultraviolet light, and used the thermal conductivity probe.
'She didn't know how to use her equipment very well. First of all, would never use the ultraviolet light under shop lights, you need a darkened room.
'It did make me question the qualifications that 'Anna' had.'
'Anna' also did not know how to use the thermal conductivity probe correctly, causing it to malfunction.
Ms Barton then gave 'Anna' her probe to use for the rest of the meeting.
Ms Barton then told the jury what she did after 'Anna' casually put the diamonds in her handbag.
She said: 'I said 'No, no, no, you can't do that, please take them out of your handbag now, I have to see them at all times.'
'She said: 'It's okay, don't worry, it's nothing to worry about. Then she took the bag out and placed it on the table. Four million pounds worth of diamonds had been out of my sight.'
It was only when Lakatos had gone that the bag was opened in front of stunned staff.
A DNA profile was recovered from the pebbles which showed a strong link to Lakatos.
Lakatos and her four associates were out of the country within three hours.
Her two female associates, who left with the diamonds, have still not been identified.
Her two male associates, Mickael Jovanovic and Christophe Stankovic, earlier admitted conspiracy to steal.
Jurors watched CCTV footage of Lakatos checking into a hotel in north London on 9 March 2016, the day before the heist.
The same woman got into a grey Citroen car late in the evening along with Jovanovic and Stankovic.
The grey Citroen then was caught on CCTV stopping opposite Boodles, before returning to Cricklewood and dropping Anna off at the hotel.
After the theft Lakatos changed her clothes in a pub toilet and was recorded on CCTV at St Pancras Station, calmly walking through the gates into the international departure lounge at 1.55pm.
She produced her own passport, confident she could not be traced to the heist, before taking a Eurostar train to France.
Lakatos, who has Romanian and Hungarian citizenship, has a series of convictions for minor thefts in France dating back to 2002.
She was arrested in France on 24 September last year and extradited to the UK on 3 December.
But when she was confronted with the CCTV footage of her she told jurors: 'It's my sister.'
Lakatos, last living in Saint-Brieuc, Brittany, France, denied but was convicted of conspiracy to steal between 15 February and 11 March 2016.
Jovanovic was jailed for three years and eight months for conspiracy to steal in June 2020.
Stankovic was caught and jailed in 2016.
Acting Detective Sergeant William Man of the Flying Squad 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.
'However, due to the tenacious police work of the Flying Squad, involving painstaking analysis of a vast amount of evidence, we have managed to identify Lakatos and bring her to justice.
'While she played a key role in this theft, it is clear she did not work alone and enquiries remain ongoing to identify all those involved.'
How Romanian thief, 60, almost got away with £4.2m Ocean's Eleven-style diamond heist from London society jeweller Boodles using sleight of hand to swap them for PEBBLES as she is found guilty despite pointing finger of blame at her dead lookalike sister
By Martin Robinson, Chief Reporter for MailOnline
The buxom and 'most unattractive' Romanian thief convicted of being behind the biggest jewellery shop heist in British history swapped diamonds for pebbles before she left the UK for France within three hours and then blamed a lookalike sister who had been killed in a car crash.
Lulu Lakatos faces years in a British jail after she was convicted of being a fake gemmologist known as Anna who pulled off the audacious theft right under the nose of the boss of Boodles of New Bond Street.
But Lukatos almost got away with the 'perfect crime' after distracting witnesses with her ample cleavage, an outrageous low-cut dress and dyed-bob, nothing like the grey-haired 'plump' thief in the dock at Southwark Crown Court over the past month.
Lukatos almost got away with the 'perfect crime' after distracting witnesses with her ample cleavage, an outrageous low-cut dress and dyed-bob, nothing like the grey-haired 'plump' thief in the dock at Southwark Crown Court over the past month
In a plot resembling the Ocean's 8 movie starring Anne Hathaway, the conwoman fooled Boodles chairman Nicholas Wainwright by posing as a gemmologist hired by wealthy Russian businessmen seeking to purchase the precious stones from its flagship Mayfair store.
But unlike the glamorous gem thieves dressed in designer clothing in the hit movie, Lakatos resembled a plump 'Russian dancer' in a low-cut dress, flashing her ample cleavage, witnesses said.
Gemmologist Emma Barton and Mr Wainwright were both hoodwinked after he agreed to sell the precious stones to a gang posing as Moscow millionaires with links to Israel.
The chairman, whose family have run the luxury jewellers for six generations, agreed to let a diamond expert known as Anna visit the basement of his flagship Mayfair store to inspect the gems when she swapped them for worthless pebbles without anyone noticing on March 10, 2016.
Sources with knowledge of the crime, and subsequent investigation, tell me they believe it was actually inspired by a 2014 Channel 4 fly-on-the-wall documentary called The Million Pound Necklace: Inside Boodles, which offered a 'privileged peek' behind the scenes of the family-owned firm.
And as for the society jeweller, they have recovered a small amount of funds via proceeds of crime proceedings, but remain millions out of pocket if the gems weren't fully insured.
The intrinsic plan, most of which took place in London, began in Monaco before a heist that saw the protaganists
The gems were to be placed in a padlocked purse and held in the jewellers' vault until funds were transferred.
But CCTV footage from the family firm's New Bond Street basement showroom captured the moment the purse was put into Anna's handbag and switched for a duplicate just containing small rocks as Mr Wainwright went upstairs to take a telephone call from the Russian purchaser.
Details of the heist were revealed by 27-year-old Frenchman called Mickael Jovanovic (pictured) following a Scotland Yard investigation spanning three years and multiple countries
Lakatos moved the loot from her bag to the handbag of two unknown young women, who had been waiting in nearby Ralph Lauren and Cartier stores.
The thief from the Saint Brieuc region of France then changed her clothes in a pub toilet near Victoria