A scammer impersonated an international gemstone expert to exchange £4.2m worth of diamonds for a bag of worthless pebbles, a court heard today.
Lulu Lakatos, 60, is rumored to be posing as a gemstone connoisseur called ‘Anna’, who was hired in 2016 by wealthy Russian businessmen who wanted to buy gems from Boodles in Mayfair.
Boodles boss Nicholas Wainwright had reached an agreement to sell seven expensive diamonds after a luncheon meeting at the Hotel Metropole in Monaco.
The gems, worth a total of £4.2 million, include a 20-carat heart-shaped diamond valued at over £2.2 million and a three-carat pear-shaped fancy pink diamond valued at £1.1 million.
Mr. Wainwright watched as she examined the stones, but even he couldn’t stop her from using dexterity to exchange the bag of jewels for an identical bag of pebbles, Southwark Crown Court heard.
“I looked at her like a hawk,” said the Boodles chairman, who described Anna as “strange” and said he was “surprised” that she didn’t speak good English
Lakatos was born in Arade, Romania and holds Romanian and Hungarian nationality. She was arrested in France on September 24 last year and extradited to the UK to face trial.
Lulu Lakatos, 60, was charged with conspiracy to steal the 2016 theft of family-owned luxury jeweler (pictured) in Mayfair after she was extradited from France last year
In a statement read in court, Mr Wainwright told how in the weeks before the theft he was approached by an Israeli, “Simon Glas,” who wanted to buy valuable diamonds as an investment.
The sale of seven high-quality diamonds was agreed after a meeting in Monaco, where Mr Wainwright was introduced to Glas’ business partner, a Russian named ‘Alexander’.
Lakatos arrived outside Boodles at 11:09 AM in March 2016. A man named “Alexander,” posing as “Anna,” telephoned Mr. Wainwright to inform him that the gemmologist was waiting outside, as arranged.
Communicating in French, they went to the basement, accompanied by Boodles’ own expert, Emma Barton.
After examining each of the seven precious jewels, it is alleged that the defendant wrapped each diamond in pre-cut tissue paper and placed them in opaque boxes that she had brought with her.
Those boxes were then placed in a zip-lock bag, which was locked with a padlock.
Boodles chairman Nicholas Wainwright (above) watched as ‘Anna’ surveyed the stones, but couldn’t even avoid using dexterity to trade the jewels for an identical bag of pebbles, a court has heard
Meanwhile, Mr. Wainwright went upstairs to take a call from copper “Alexander,” while “Anna” stuffed the locked bag into her handbag.
When told she couldn’t do that, ‘Anna’ looked confused and put what was said to be the box back on the table.
Instead, it was revealed that it was a nearly identical forgery and that the diamonds were allegedly in Lakatos’ possession.
Boodles sent the padlocked bag to Heathrow for X-rays. The scan revealed the presence of objects similar in size to diamonds, but something didn’t seem quite right.
“That’s why the Boodles employees opened the bag. In each of the opaque boxes was a small stone instead of a diamond.’
Boodles staff discovered the stones in the bag to be worthless pebbles the following day, after Mrs. Barton expressed concern about “Anna’s” behavior.
Lakatos then allegedly moved the wallet containing the diamonds from her purse to the handbag of one of the two unknown young women, who were poking around the nearby Ralph Lauren and Cartier stores.
Prosecutor Philip Stott said Lakatos, from the Saint Brieuc region of France, changed her clothes in a pub toilet, assisted by another accomplice, Georgeta Danila, before the couple left London on the Eurostar
“The diamonds were stolen by the defendant using sleight of hand,” prosecutor Philip Stott said.
“The conspiracy in which she is said to have played an integral and central role was one of the highest sophistication, planning, risk and reward.”
Lakatos was arrested in France last September under a European arrest warrant before being extradited to the UK.
Wearing glasses and her gray hair pulled back in a ponytail, she appeared in the dock, after the procedure with the help of a French interpreter.
Lakatos, who most recently lived in Saint Brieuc, Brittany, France, has denied conspiracy to steal between February 15 and March 11, 2016, while two others, Mickael Jovanovic and Christophe Stankovic, have previously admitted the charges.
Philip Stott, prosecutor, said: “Meeting was arranged by deception with the chairman of a prominent firm of luxury jewelers.
Lakatos is said to have been part of an international group of criminals posing as diamond buyers in a scheme that police compared to a movie conspiracy (file photo)
The chairman was persuaded to make a deal to sell seven very expensive diamonds to a group masquerading as wealthy Russian investors.
“In due course, as part of the closing of that deal, arrangements were made for the defendant, who was posing as a gemologist, a valuer of precious stones, on behalf of the Russian buyers, to be present in the seller’s showroom in London on New Bond Street.
The gems were supposedly valued by her and then immediately put in a sealed bag, which would then be kept by the sellers pending the transfer of money from the buyers.
“When the buyers’ money didn’t come in, the bag was opened. Inside, instead of the diamonds, were seven small stones.
“The diamonds had been skillfully stolen by the defendant. The total value of the stolen diamonds was £4.2 million.’
The process continues.