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Woman jailed in UK for stealing gems, leaving pebbles instead

Woman jailed in UK for stealing gems, leaving pebbles instead

dpa
London
A woman who stole diamonds worth 4.2 million pounds (5.8 million dollars) by swapping them for pebbles in the biggest ever theft of its kind has been jailed for more than five years.
Lulu Lakatos, 60, posed as gem expert named Anna to swipe the seven stones from luxury Mayfair jewellers Boodles in a plot likened to a Hollywood heist movie.
She was sent to value the diamonds, which were to be placed in a padlocked purse and held in the New Bond Street store’s vault until funds were transferred, on behalf of supposed wealthy Russian buyers.
But closed circuit TV 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, whose name was given as Alexander, whom he had met over lunch at Monaco’s Hotel Metropole.
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 during a search.
She left the shop before switching the gems to the handbag of an unknown woman and the international gang of criminals fled Britain 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 real diamonds have never been recovered.
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.” Lakatos claimed Anna was her younger sister, Liliana Lakatos, who had confessed to using Lulu Lakatos’ 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 (476,000 dollars) was switched for a duplicate filled with paper.
But it was Lulu Lakatos sobbing 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 on Wednesday. “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.
“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 pounds.” 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.”

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