How society jeweller Boodles was bamboozled: It was a dazzling sleight of hand by a high-class gang who pulled off a ￡4million Ocean's Eleven-style heist in the heart of London...and you won't believe how they did it
At society jeweller Boodles, diamonds are a girl’s best friend.
Or as its managing director Michael Wainwright once told a TV documentary: ‘A lot of girls like diamonds and some girls absolutely adore them and those are the girls we are after!’
One such girl arrived at the 200-year-old firm’s Bond Street headquarters at 11.09am on the morning of Thursday, March 10, 2016.
She wore a dark coat, silk scarf and designer hat, and spoke with a thick French accent.Her name, she said, was ‘Anna’, and she was a gem expert hoping to inspect seven large diamonds on behalf of a wealthy Russian who’d agreed to buy them for ￡4.2 million.
‘Anna’ was escorted into a basement showroom by Michael’s brother Nick, the silver-haired chairman of Boodles who is renowned in moneyed circles both for his brilliant salesmanship and salmon-pink socks and ties.
A week earlier, he’d travelled to Monaco to negotiate the transaction with ‘Anna’s’ boss, who went by the name of ‘Alexander’, and a second gentleman who had set up the meeting, called ‘Simon Glas’.
Exactly 56 minutes later, having declared herself happy with the jewels, ‘Anna’ bid ‘au revoir’ and walked out of the store onto New Bond Street.
She left behind the diamonds, including a stunning 20-carat heart-shaped sparkler worth ￡2.2 million and measuring roughly the size of a Fox’s glacier mint.
They had been placed in a padlocked pouch that Anna had brought with her and returned to Mr Wainwright, who’d then proceeded to lock them carefully away in the store’s safe.
Or so he thought.
In fact, ‘Anna’ had just carried out one of the most audacious heists in criminal history, using extraordinary sleight of hand to secretly swap the bag of gems for worthless pebbles packed in an identical pouch.
It would later emerge that she’d hidden the real stones in a secret compartment in her handbag, and spirited them out of the boutique.
Details of the extraordinary scam were made public at Southwark Crown Court this week, where one of the glamorous woman’s accomplices, a 27-year-old Frenchman called Mickael Jovanovic, was jailed for three years and eight months, following a painstaking Scotland Yard investigation spanning three years and multiple countries.
Philip Stott, prosecuting, described the theft as being ‘of the highest possible sophistication, planning, risk, and reward’.
The court papers chronicling what was the largest-value single incident of shoplifting in British criminal history have variously compared it to the plots of an Ocean’s Eleven film, the Peter Sellers Pink Panther movies and the 1981 film Raiders Of The Lost Ark, in which hero Indiana Jones replaces a valuable golden idol with a bag of sand.
Yet the gang who pulled off this elaborate ￡4.2 million sting may instead have been inspired by a rather more prosaic piece of film-making — as the Mail discovered this week.
Sources with knowledge of the crime, and subsequent investigation, tell me they believe it was actually inspired by a 2014 Channel 4 fly-on-the-wall documentary called The Million Pound Necklace: Inside Boodles, which offered a ‘privileged peek’ behind the scenes of the family-owned firm.
The show not only familiarised viewers with the extraordinarily valuable stock handled on a daily basis in the firm’s nine stores, revealing that their range includes a single ‘suite’ of emerald jewellery worth ￡2.8 million, but also introduced them to the Wainwrights, who were wooed by the gang before and, of course, during the heist.
Crucially, it also showed that executives were in the habit of travelling to Monaco, where they were later courted by ‘Anna’s’ accomplices in order to woo clients at cocktail parties and red-carpet events.
And, perhaps helpfully for the perpetrators of the heist, the documentary provided insight into the network of diamond dealers and other contacts from around the world who help Boodles source their valuable raw materials.
‘Like many of these programmes, the Channel 4 doc was quite jaunty, and gave the impression that Boodles was run by a family of slightly bumbling posh Englishmen,’ says an insider.
‘Criminals watching might very well have concluded they’d be an easy mark, especially since the show also gave them all sorts of important information about the Wainwrights and what makes them tick.’
To understand how the heist was carried off, we must travel back to February 2016, roughly 18 months after Inside Boodles first aired.
One day that month, Nick Wainwright was contacted out of the blue by the aforementioned ‘Simon Glas’, who according to court papers claimed to be ‘the business associate of someone [he] knew’.
‘Glas’ said he was interested in purchasing high-value diamonds as an investment, and over the ensuing days managed to convince Mr Wainwright to travel to Monaco for a face-to-face meeting with a group of investors.He met three men, including the aforementioned Alexander, who ‘was posing as the prime mover’.
A deal was then struck whereby the group would buy seven specific diamonds.However, to verify that they were the specified size and quality, the Russians asked for their gemmologist to be allowed to inspect the stones at the Boodles HQ on New Bond Street.
Under the arrangement — believed to be relatively common in the diamond trade — the stones would be inspected and then placed inside a bag which the gemmologist would then padlock shut so that its contents could not be tampered with.
The bag would subsequently be kept by Boodles until the store received a ￡4.2 million bank transfer from the purchaser, at which point it would be handed over.
‘It’s not the sort of deal Boodles normally do, but Nick [Wainwright] took the view that this was a very good price indeed for those seven diamonds,’ says a source with knowledge of the case.
‘He thought the Russians were seriously over-paying, and had more money than sense.Perhaps that rather blinded him to the fact he was being taken for a ride.’
And so a trap was set.The ensuing heist then required impeccable choreography and intricate timing.
It began on March 7, when a gang member called Christophe Stankovic — who like most of his accomplices is a French national of Albanian heritage — rented a Citroen DS4 hatchback at Charles De Gaulle airport outside Paris.
Two days later, he and Jovanovic drove to the UK via the Channel Tunnel, entering Kent at 1.15pm.They then checked into the Best Western Hotel in Ilford, Essex, with two female accomplices.
On the other side of London that afternoon, ‘Anna’ and another woman, whose identity is unknown, arrived via train from Paris and travelled to Kilburn in North London, where they checked into the budget Cricklewood Lodge Hotel.
At 8.15pm, ‘Anna’ left her friend behind and walked to a local cafe, where she was met by Stankovic and Jovanovic.The trio drove in the Citroen to New Bond Street in Central London, where they carried out surveillance on the Boodles store and its surroundings.
The following morning — the day of the heist — the four gang members who had stayed in Ilford checked out of the hotel and took a minicab to Bond Street, where they arrived around 9.30am.
‘Anna’ and her female accomplice, for their part, got a cab to the Willow Walk pub, a branch of Wetherspoons near to Victoria Station, where the accomplice waited with their suitcases.Fast forward an hour, and ‘Anna’ was met at Boodles by Mr Wainwright and a gemmologist called Emma Barton.
She was escorted to the basement, where she sat at a table and weighed each of the seven diamonds, before wrapping them in tissue paper, and transferring each one to a small box.They were all then placed in the zipped bag, which ‘Anna’ padlocked shut.
According to informed sources, both Barton and Wainwright became somewhat suspicious of ‘Anna’ at this point.
‘She was a middle-aged woman, who spoke very little English, and did not really seem to handle the stones in the way you’d expect a trained gemmologist to,’ I’m told.
‘For example, she tried to use a thermal conductivity probe, which is a device used for confirming that a diamond is genuine, but couldn’t make it work and had to borrow one from Emma Barton. And she wasn’t carrying out some of the checks you’d usually see a proper expert do.
‘As it turned out, she was much better at doing sleight of hand tricks than she was at pretending to be a gemmologist.’
At this point, Nick Wainwright received a telephone call from ‘Alexander’, the supposed Russian buyer shortly before midday.
As he left the room to talk, ‘Anna’ suddenly slipped the locked bag of gemstones into her handbag.
‘Emma Barton told Anna she couldn’t do that and told her to put it back on the table,’ said prosecutor Nick Stott in court.
‘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.’
Now highly suspicious, Ms Barton duly alerted Mr Wainwright about what had occurred.
After finishing his brief telephone call, the Boodles chief asked Anna if he could check her handbag, as a precaution, before she left.
However, the court was told, the real diamonds appear to have by then been transferred into a secret compartment, meaning he ‘reassured himself that the bag was relatively empty with nothing unusual in it’.
‘Anna’ then left the store shortly after midday, and walked down Bond Street carrying ￡4.2 million worth of stolen diamonds.Within a few yards, she was met by Stankovic and Jovanovic’s two female accomplices.
CCTV footage shows her quickly dropping the diamonds into one of their handbags (the second woman ‘attempted to shield the transaction’) before returning to the Willow Walk pub, where she adjourned to the toilets and changed clothes, replacing her dark coat with a light one in an apparent effort to throw off detectives studying CCTV footage.
She and the accomplice who had waited there for her then travelled to King’s Cross and caught a Eurostar train back to Paris.
Meanwhile, Stankovic and Jovanovic and the two women who now had the diamonds hailed separate taxis and asked to be taken to the Gants Hill roundabout in East London.
They then met up, walked back to their hotel, jumped in the Citroen, and returned to France via the Channel Tunnel.En route, they were seen on camera stopping on the A12 to deposit an object in a drain.
It remains unclear what that object actually was, but within three hours, they too were out of the UK.
It must have seemed like the perfect crime.Indeed, various steps taken by members of the gang to make their movements harder to trace (in addition to the clothing switch, they booked the minicabs using fake names, and on several occasions that day changed their destination mid-route) had perhaps convinced them that they would never be traced.
For it had indeed been an impeccably slick day’s work.Indeed, it wasn’t until the following afternoon that Boodles even realised they had been swindled.
Having grown suspicious about the failure of ‘Alexander’s’ promised ￡4.2 million to appear, they sent the locked jewellery bag to a specialist facility at Heathrow to be X-rayed, a process that revealed that something ‘did not appear to be quite right’, according to court papers.
When the bag was torn open, the horrified jeweller discovered that it contained seven pebbles ‘similar in size’ to the diamonds.
By then, the gang was, of course, long gone. But it turned out they had not been quite as clever as they thought.
Fortuitously, extensive CCTV surveillance by Scotland Yard’s Flying Squad soon revealed the routes via which the group had fled.
Detectives were able to trace the Citroen to its hire firm in Paris, which provided them with Stankovic’s name.
He was arrested in 2016 after being detained while flying into Manchester, and sentenced to three years and eight months.
Jovanovic, who hails from Le Blanc-Mesnil, a suburb in northeastern Paris, fell under suspicion because he’d used his real name to book the Channel Tunnel tickets for the Citroen.
An international arrest warrant was filed and he was eventually caught after being arrested in Northern Italy in January this year.He’s been behind bars ever since.
The rest of the gang — thought to contain another seven members — remain at large, though detectives are understood to have established several of their real names, meaning the net continues to close.
As for society jeweller Boodles, they have recovered a small amount of funds via proceeds of crime proceedings against the two convicted men, but remain millions out of pocket.
They are likely to think twice, in future, about allowing TV cameras into their gilded showrooms.
And this quintessentially English society jewellers will never again do business with mysterious Russians and exotic women who carry large handbags.