Audacious thieves swap diamonds for pebbles in £4.2m Oceans Eleven-style raid at Mayfair jewellers Boodles

Tristan Kirk

Thieves stole £4.2 million of diamonds from Mayfair jewellers Boodles by swapping them for pebbles in one of biggest and most audacious thefts in UK criminal history.

The high-end jewellery store was targeted by an international crime ring posing as wealthy Russian businessmen, who struck a deal to buy seven diamonds – including a heart-shaped jewel worth £2.2 million.

When Boodles agreed to allow a gemmologist to visit its New Bond Street store to inspect the diamonds, she used “sleight of hand” to swap them for pebbles and walked away before the jewellers had realised what had happened.

Police said the raid was “like the plot of a film”, echoing the daring thefts portrayed in the Ocean’s Eleven film franchise.

Details of the audacious crime were revealed on Friday at Southwark crown court as one of those involved, 27-year-old Mickael Jovanovic, was jailed for three years and eight months. Prosecutor Philip Stott described the 2016 raid as “of the highest possible sophistication, planning, risk, and reward”, saying it is believed to be the largest value single incident of shoplifting in British criminal history.

He said Boodles chairman Nicholas Wainwright was invited to a meeting in Monaco and struck a deal to “sell seven very expensive single diamonds to a group posing as wealthy Russian investors.

“Arrangements were made for a gemmologist instructed by the buyers to attend at the vendor’s London showroom. The gems were valued by her and immediately placed into a locked bag, which was retained by the sellers pending the transfer of funds.

“When the funds failed to materialise from the buyers the bag was opened. Inside, instead of the diamonds, were seven small pebbles. The diamonds had been stolen by the person posing as the gemmologist for the buyers by sleight of hand.”

The court heard Mr Wainwright and Boodles’ own gemmologist Emma Barton met with the buyers’ representative, ‘Anna’, who was taken to the basement of the jewellery store for a viewing on March 10, 2016.

“Anna wrapped each diamond in pre-cut tissue paper and placed them inside opaque boxes she had brought along with her”, said Mr Stott. “When the examination was complete, the boxes were placed into a zipable purse-like bag. That was then padlocked shut.

“During the examination, at one point Mr Wainwright went upstairs to take a call from ‘Alexander’, the Russian purchaser. When he did so, ‘Anna’ placed the locked bag inside her handbag.

Like the plot of a film, this was a truly audacious crime

“Emma Barton told Anna she couldn’t do that and told her to put it back on the table. Anna looked confused and did as she was told. Unseen by Emma Barton however, Anna had in fact placed a duplicate bag back on the table.”

Boodles staff were suspicious and had the locked bag x-rayed the following day, before cracking it open to discover they had been left with just pebbles.

Mr Stott said Jovanovic and another man, Christophe Stankovic, had carried out surveillance on Boodles and were loitering nearby on the day of the theft, while two women acted as lookouts for ‘Anna’ and a third woman was standing by with a change of clothes at a pub near Victoria Station.

Within three hours of stealing the diamonds, all six of the thieves had left the UK and the stolen jewels have never been recovered.

Stankovic was caught and jailed in 2016 while Jovanovic, a French national, was extradited to face justice in January this year. Judge Sally Cahill QC called it a “clever and sophisticated plan” as she jailed Jovanovicon Friday, but accepted he was not the mastermind of the plan.

Anna and the rest of the group responsible have not been traced.

Boodles was targeted in a ram-raid attack in March 2018, when thieves wielding axes and swords crashed a Land Rover into the front of the jewellers. However they were thwarted by the store's new reinforced 'warrior doors'.

Detective Constable William Man, of the Flying Squad, said: “This was a well organised theft which evolved over a number of weeks both in London and on the continent

“Like the plot of a film, this was a truly audacious crime. They stole the diamonds and fled in a matter of hours. However, they left behind a trail of evidence which led us to where they were staying, and the Citroen they had hired in Paris.

“As a result of piecing together all of the bits of information, we knew it was only a matter of time before arrests were made. And whilst it has taken four years, this case does highlight that we won’t give up. We still remain determined to identify all of those involved.”

Mr Stott told the court he had researched past multi-million pound crimes under the Theft Act 1968 and had “failed to identify a higher value individual offence … ever committed in this country”.

Notorious crimes such as the Hatton Garden heist and the £26 million Brink’s Mat raid were charged as other offences like burglary and robbery.

Jovanovic and Stankovic both admitted conspiracy to steal.

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