Can YOU spot the moment jewel thief granny switched £4.2m diamonds for worthless PEBBLES? How 60-year-old Romanian woman pulled off Hollywood heist in society jeweller Boodles – as she is jailed for five-and-a-half years
This is the moment a sixty-year-old woman swiped £4.2million worth of gems under the noses of staff at London society jeweller Boodles – as she was today jailed for five-and-a-half years for the Ocean’s Eleven-style heist.
Lulu Lakatos 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.
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.’
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.
Judge Emma Goodall QC sentenced Lakatos to five-and-a-half years’ imprisonment today.
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,’ she 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
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
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.’
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 the biggest jewellery shop heist in British history left the UK for France via the Channel Tunnel within three hours after dumping her glamourous granny disguise in a Wetherspoons toilet and then blamed a lookalike sister who had been killed in a car crash for nabbing £4.2million of diamonds.
Lulu Lakatos faces five-and-a-half 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 and expensive low-cut black dress, heavy make-up, thick-rimmed glasses and large hat – a world away from the dowdy and ‘plump’ grey-haired 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 even 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 in the hit Hollywood movie, Lakatos resembled a plump ‘Russian dancer’ in a low-cut dress, flashing her ample cleavage to distract staff, witnesses said.
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
The intrinsic plan, most of which took place in London, began in Monaco before a heist that saw the protaganists
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. In fact 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.
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, said after her arrest 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 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.
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.
Those suspects have never been found.
The thief from the Saint Brieuc region of France then changed her clothes in a pub toilet near Victoria station before leaving London on the Eurostar.
Within three hours, the gang had left the country with the haul, which included a £1.1 million three carat pear-shaped fancy pink diamond.
Two members of the gang, Mickael Jovanovic and Christophe Stankovic have already admitted conspiracy to steal.
Lakatos was arrested in France on September 24 last year and extradited to the UK to stand trial in December.
But in an extraordinary case Lulu Lakatos said her sister Liliana had confessed months before her death to being the fake gemmologist known as Anna who pulled off the audacious theft right under the nose of the boss of society jewellers Boodles.
The 60-year-old Romanian said her younger sister had used her passport to travel to the UK and carry out the eyewatering con in 2016, snatching gems including a heart-shaped diamond worth £2,215,138 in a ‘sleight of hand’.
Lakatos told Southwark Crown Court that her sibling took steps to age her appearance and stole her passport at a time that she was distracted by her husband’s prostate cancer.
The convicted thief, who admitted to having several convictions dating back to 2002, claimed her sister planned to hand herself into police in Paris.
But before she could do so, she was killed in a car accident in Constanta County, Romania.
The bespectacled grey-haired defendant produced a death certificate to prove her sister died aged 49 on October 1, 2019.
Jurors heard Liliana also had a string of convictions for theft and was wanted in Switzerland for theft and fraud at the time of her death.
Fingermarks left on the glass table in the Boodles showroom could not be matched to Lulu Lakatos’s prints.
A mixed DNA profile was recovered from the pebbles swapped for the diamonds which could not exclude either sister, jurors were told.
The thief was driven to look at New Bond Street’s Boodles the night before the heist
She then left the store and gave the purse to two women walking past outside -and they have never been traced
It also emerged that Boodles own gemmologist Emma Barton who witnessed the heist picked out Liliana as the culprit in an identification procedure.
But, in his closing speech to the jury, Mr Stott said it was Lulu Lakatos, not her sister, who was captured on CCTV switching the diamonds for pebbles at Boodles before handing them to an accomplice and fleeing to France.
‘You can see her in the footage, it is her,’ he said.
‘What has happened here is very simple: The defendant has taken advantage of the fact that her sister sadly passed away in order to try and avoid the blame for this offence.’
Lula Lakatos, who has Romanian and Hungarian citizenship, had admitted she had carried out a series of minor thefts in France dating back to 2002.
Giving evidence through a French interpreter, she said: ‘I went through difficult times, financially, so I know it’s wrong to do it but I had difficult financial moments.
‘I have stopped because I was too scared to carry on with my life like this, so I tried to find other means.
‘I worked in short term contracts.
‘I was in school, in a canteen, I did some cleaning work.
‘I have been living in Saint-Brieuc since 1983, 1984, with my husband, later on I took an apartment with my sister.’ When Ioana Nedelcu, defending, asked: ‘Who is the person that has been called ‘Anna’ throughout these proceedings?
The 60-year-old dressed in a plain black dress, with her frizzy grey hair tied back in a ponytail, replied: ‘It is my sister, Liliana Lakatos.’
Lakatos told jurors she had not been in the UK since a trip with her sister and Georgeta Danila – another woman said to have been involved in the Boodles theft – in 2012.
Her sister only confessed after Danila was held by police months before Liliana’s death, she said.
‘When her friend Georgeta Danila has been stopped, this is when she confessed about the passport and everything else,’ Lakatos told the court.
‘In March 2016, I was in Saint-Brieuc, in France.
‘In 2016, my husband had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, I was dealing with that for the whole year.
‘At first, I was angry, and she promised that she will make everything up.
‘She wanted to do it herself. She promised me she needed time, she wanted to present herself. If she didn’t have this accident, she would be here today.’ But prosecutor Philip Stott suggested: ‘Is what is happened you have decided to take advantage of the fact your sister has passed away and sought to pin all the blame on her? That’s what you have done, haven’t you?’
Christophe Stankovic, a gang member involved in the heist, rented a Citroen DS4 hatchback in Paris and then checked into the Best Western Hotel in Ilford, Essex (pictured) with two other accomplices
Lakatos replied: ‘No, not at all sir. If my sister were alive, she would be standing here.
‘I would have preferred it if she was here, because she would have preferred to be in jail, because you can come back from jail, however, she can’t come back from where she is now.’ The prosecutor asked: ‘What your saying is that your sister has taken your passport, coloured her hair, gone to England to carry out this crime, returned to France, made herself look her normal age, to then return to your apartment to replace the passport, is that the suggestion you’re making?
‘You would agree, wouldn’t you, that the woman we see in the CCTV look an awful lot like you doesn’t she?’
Lakatos replied: ‘It looks like, but it’s not me.’ She is alleged to have switched the diamonds to the handbag of an unknown woman before leaving London for France on the Eurostar with Danila.
Boodles chairman Nicholas Wainwright said the woman he knew as ‘Anna’ was dressed ‘extraordinarily’.
The chairman, whose family have run the luxury jewellers for six generations, had agreed to let the supposed diamond expert visit the basement of his New Bond Street store to inspect the gems, when she allegedly swapped them for pebbles using ‘sleight of hand’ without anyone noticing on March 10, 2016.
In an elaborate sting by the thieves, Mr Wainwright had previously agreed the sale of the seven diamonds following a lunch meeting at Monaco’s Hotel Metropole.
But when the fake gemmologist arrived to inspect the gems, she ‘looked strange’.
‘This woman called Anna looked strange,’ he said.
‘She didn’t look at the stones through an eyeglass, as a gemmologist might do, and she didn’t check their certificates.’
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 behaviour of Lakatos, who has Romanian and Hungarian citizenship, also arouse the suspicions of Boodles’ own gemmologist Emma Barton who was watching.
After ‘Anna’ managed to steal the £4.2million worth of diamonds, she changed her clothes in a nearby Wetherspoons pub before fleeing to Kings Cross station to travel back to Paris via Eurostar
Miss Barton described the imposter: ‘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.
‘She took each stone, weighed it, places 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.’
The Romanian defendant is said to have chatted to Mr Wainwright in French as she weighed the jewels before wrapping each in pre-cut tissue paper and placing them inside opaque boxes she had brought along with her.
When the examination was complete, the boxes were placed into a zipped purse bag which was then padlocked shut while Boodles own gemmologist Emma Barton was watching, jurors heard.
But she managed to perform a swap with an identical bag full of pebbles after putting the diamonds in her handbag momentarily, it was alleged.
Miss Barton recalled: ‘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 OK, 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.’