A Romanian confidence trickster who swapped diamonds worth £4.2 million worth for a bag of worthless pebbles in an audacious Ocean's Eleven-style heist has been found guilty of theft and jailed for five-and-a-half years.
Lulu Lakatos, 60, posed as a gemologist called “Anna” who was sent to value the precious stones at Mayfair jewellers Boodles in March 2016 by wealthy Russian buyers.
But using sleight of hand, she was able to switch the diamonds for an identical bag and made off with the gems, which have never been recovered.
She was eventually caught in France and extradited to the UK, but claimed her younger sister, Liliana, who was killed in a car accident in Romania in 2019, was the guilty party.
Lakatos, who was part of a gang, had denied conspiracy to steal on 10 March 2016 while two others, Mickael Jovanovic and Christophe Stankovic, earlier admitted the charge and were jailed.
Two unidentified female members of the gang are still at large and it is feared that the diamonds have already been cut down and will never be found.
Sentencing Lakatos, Judge Emma Goodall said: "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."
She added: "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, who lived in Saint-Brieuc, Brittany, has three previous convictions for theft in France.
She 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 Stankovic and Jovanovic.
Danila waited in the Willow Walk 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.
Boodles boss Nicholas Wainwright escorted her down a glass spiral staircase into the meeting room with Emma Barton - Boodles's gemologist - 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.
But 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'."
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.
Police likened the raid to the daring thefts portrayed in the Ocean’s Eleven movie franchise, starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt.
Lakatos, born in Arade, Romania, claimed her sister had admitted her part in the gem raid just months before she died in a car accident.
Liliana Lakatos had been accused of performing a similar style heist in 2014 involving €400,000 from AEK Bank in Oberhofen in Bern, Switzerland.
A woman swapped an envelope containing 8 bundles of euro notes for a similar envelope containing bundles of 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 Liliana Lakatos, although she was never arrested or charged.
There are now questions about whether Lulu may have had some part in that raid and whether Liliana had been used as a convenient stooge.
Danila was acquitted after telling a jury she had no idea she was involved in the crime.
Thomas Short, from the CPS, said: “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.
“Having committed the ultimate sleight of hand, Lakatos simply walked out of a Mayfair luxury jewellers with more than £4m worth of diamonds in her handbag.
“The prosecution case included strong witness testimony and CCTV footage which showed Lakatos arriving outside Boodles the evening before, while the shop was closed, to scope out the area.
"We were also able to show her movements after the heist which included efforts to change her appearance and leave the country via Eurostar in less than three hours after stepping foot into Boodles.
“The CPS is committed to prosecuting those who break the law for their own financial gain and will work with the police to catch and prosecute offenders.”
Acting Detective Sergeant William Man of the Flying Squad 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.
“However, due to the tenacious police work of the Flying Squad, involving painstaking analysis of a vast amount of evidence, we have managed to identify Lakatos and bring her to justice.
“While she played a key role in this theft, it is clear she did not work alone and enquiries remain ongoing to identify all those involved.”