A 60-year-old gem thief will be spending nearly six years in prison after she swiped seven diamonds, worth nearly $7.3 million, from a jewellery store in London, England.
Using “sleight of hand,” Lulu Lakatos swapped out the precious stones for pebbles, before hightailing it out of the country, according to a news release from London Metropolitan Police.
On March, 9, 2016, Lakatos entered England and checked into a hotel, before meeting with two men at a café. Together, they drove into central London to scope out a Boodles store from across the street.
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The next day, Lakatos arrived for a pre-arranged meeting at the luxury jeweller, posing as a gemologist named “Anna” who, working on behalf of a wealthy Russian investor, had come to examine the stones. Police said Lakatos communicated to the staff at the shop in French, under the guise she could not speak English very well — and using the language barrier to aid her in the heist.
The diamonds were never recovered.
The 60-year-old was shown to a secure area, in the presence of Boodles’ own gemologist, and was presented with seven diamonds to examine.
Each of the stones were individually inspected, wrapped in pre-cut tissue paper, and placed inside opaque boxes, reported the BBC, which followed the trial. The boxes were then “placed into a zippable purse-like bag, which was padlocked shut,” according to prosecutor, Philip Stott.
The stones were to remain with the Boodles until the jeweller had been paid, however, that didn’t go to plan. After inspecting the diamonds, Lakatos put the locked bag of gems into her purse, which was immediately caught and “challenged” by Boodle’s gemologist, police said.
But, Lakatos used her pseudo language disadvantage to her advantage, engineering a few seconds of delay, before producing what appeared to be the same locked bag containing the diamonds from her purse. In reality, Lakatos had switched the bag with a duplicate that contained seven pebbles of the same weight as the stones.
“It seems it was swapped for an identical locked bag,” Stott told the court.
Despite their suspicions, Lakatos left the shop with the staff “unaware of what had taken place in front of their own eyes,” said police. As she walked down the street, Lakatos was followed by two women and two men.
After transferring the goods to one of the women, they all went their separate ways — with Lakatos changing her clothes in the bathroom of a pub and catching a train out of England. She had been in and out of the country in under 24-hours.
The next day, Boodles had the locked bag x-rayed. While the items inside of the padlocked purse appeared to be the same size as the diamonds, there was something off. Opening the bag, they discovered the pebbles.
Lakatos was arrested in France and extradited to the U.K. on Dec. 3, according to police.
A case of mistaken identity?
“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,” said Acting Detective Sergeant William Man, a member of the Metropolitan Police’s Flying Squad, in the news release.
The BBC reports that prosecutors at Lakatos’ trial say the theft was the highest-value offence of its kind ever committed in the U.K. The 60-year-old, from the Saint Brieuc region of France, was found guilty of conspiracy to steal on Wednesday and was sentenced to five years and six months in jail.
Per the BBC, Lakatos, who had three previous convictions for theft in France, claimed that the gemologist “Anna” was actually her late younger sister, who had confessed to using Lakatos’ passport to commit a crime months before her death.
Liliana Lakatos, who died in Romania in October 2019, was wanted in Switzerland for a similar plot, where she switched an envelope containing 400,000 euros for a duplicate filled with paper, reported the outlet.
Two men involved in the daring theft in 2016 have been convicted of conspiracy to steal, say police. An investigation into the two women thought to be involved in the exchange with Lakatos, following the theft, is still ongoing.