Thieves stole £4.2 million of diamonds from luxury jeweller Boodles by swapping them for pebbles, Southwark Court on Friday.
In what is being described as one of the biggest and most audacious thefts in UK criminal history, an international crime ring posing as wealthy Russian businessman struck a deal to buy seven diamonds from the firm’s Mayfair boutique – including a heart-shaped jewel worth £2.2m.
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 crime were revealed in court on Friday 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”, adding 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.
The Evening Standard reports from court: “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 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”, revealed 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.
“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.”
Staff at the Boodles Mayfair boutique 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.
In court, it was revealed that Jovanovic and another man, Christophe Stankovic (who was caught and jailed in 2016), 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.
While Stankovic and Jovanovic have been brought to justice, the rest of the group responsible not been traced.