A conwoman posed as an international gem expert to swap £4.2 million worth diamonds for a bag of worthless pebbles, a court heard today.
It is alleged that Lulu Lakatos, 60, pretended to be a gem connoisseur called ‘Anna’, who had been hired by wealthy Russian businessmen seeking to purchase precious stones from Boodles in Mayfair in 2016.
Just one of the gems, a heart-shaped diamond, was worth £2,215,138.
Boodles chairman Nicholas Wainwright watched as she examined the stones but even he could not prevent her using sleight of hand to swap the bag of jewels for an identical bag containing pebbles, Southwark Crown Court heard.
Lakatos was born in Arade, Romania and has Romanian and Hungarian citizenship.
She was arrested in France on 24 September last year and extradited to the UK to stand trial on 3 December.
Lulu Lakatos, 60, was charged with conspiracy to steal over the 2016 theft from the family-owned luxury jeweller (pictured) in Mayfair after she was extradited from France last year
Lakatos arrived outside Boodles at 11.09am on March 2016. Posing as ‘Anna’, a man by the name of ‘Alexander’ phoned Mr Wainwright to inform him the gemmologist was waiting outside as arranged.
Communicating in French, the pair went to the basement, accompanied by Boodles’ own resident 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 inside opaque boxes she had brought along with her.
Those boxes were then placed into a zippable purse-like bag, which was padlocked shut.
Boodles chairman Nicholas Wainwright (above) watched as ‘Anna’ examined the stones but even could not prevent her using sleight of hand to swap the jewels for an identical bag of pebbles, a court has heard
Meanwhile, Mr Wainwright went upstairs to take a call from buyer ‘Alexander’, while ‘Anna’ placed the locked bag into her handbag.
When she was told she could not do that, ‘Anna’ looked confused, and returned what was believed to have been the box to the table.
Instead, it was revealed to have been a near identical fake, and the diamonds were allegedly in Lakatos’ possession.
Boodles sent the padlocked bag to Heathrow to be X-rayed. The scan revealed the presence of objects similar in size to diamonds but something did not appear quite right.
‘As a result, Boodles staff opened the bag. Inside each of the opaque boxes was a small pebble instead of a diamond.’
Boodles staff discovered the stones in the bag were worthless pebbles the following day after Ms Barton expressed concern about ‘Anna’s’ behaviour.
Lakatos, last living in Saint Brieuc, Brittany, France, denies conspiracy to steal between 15 February and 11 March 2016 while two others, Mickael Jovanovic and Christophe Stankovic earlier admitted the charge.
Philip Stott, prosecuting, said: ‘By means of deception, meetings were set up with the chairman of a pre-eminent firm of luxury jewellers.
Lakatos is alleged to have been part of an international group of criminals who pretended to be diamond buyers in a scheme likened by police to a film plot (file photo)
‘The chairman was persuaded to enter into a deal to sell seven very expensive diamonds to a group posing as wealthy Russian investors.
‘In due course, as part of completing that deal, arrangements were made for the defendant, posing as a gemmologist, a valuer of gems, instructed by the Russian buyers, to attend at the vendor’s London showroom on New Bond Street.
‘The gems were purportedly valued by her and then immediately placed into a locked bag, which would then be retained by the sellers pending the transfer of funds from the buyers.
‘When the funds failed to materialise from the buyers, the bag was opened. Inside were, instead of the diamonds, seven small pebbles.
‘The diamonds had been stolen by the defendant using sleight of hand. The total value of the stolen diamonds was £4.2 million.’
The trial continues.