Lulu Lakatos allegedly stole diamonds worth £4.2 million Boodles on New Bond Street in London (Image: PA)

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A woman stole diamonds worth £4.2 million from a luxury jewellers by swapping the gems for pebbles using "sleight of hand", a court has heard.

Lulu Lakatos, 60, allegedly posed as a gemologist called "Anna", sent to value the precious stones by a group posing as wealthy Russian investors who wanted to buy them from Boodles in central London.

Lakatos went to the family firm's showroom in New Bond Street to value seven diamonds before placing them into a locked bag, which was held by the jewellers pending the transfer of funds, a jury was told.

But when the bag was opened after the money failed to arrive, inside were seven small pebbles, Southwark Crown Court heard.

Boodles chairman Nicholas Wainwright was introduced to a man calling himself 'Simon Glas'
(Image: PA)

Prosecutor Philip Stott said: "The diamonds had been stolen by the defendant by sleight of hand.

"The conspiracy in which she is alleged to have played an integral and central part was one of the highest possible sophistication, planning, risk, and reward."

Lakatos, who was born in Romania but lived in France, denies conspiracy to steal on or before March 10, 2016.

The court heard that, in February 2016, Boodles chairman Nicholas Wainwright was introduced to a man calling himself "Simon Glas", who said he was interested in buying high-value diamonds as an investment.

The pair met in Monaco the following month, where Mr Wainwright was introduced to Glas's business partner, a Russian called "Alexander".

The sale of seven high-value diamonds was agreed after further discussions, the court heard.

The gems, worth a total of £4.2 million, included a 20-carat heart-shaped diamond valued at more than £2.2 million and a three-carat pear-shaped fancy pink diamond worth £1.1 million.

A gem valuer, "Anna", instructed by the buyers was due to examine the stones before they were put in a locked bag to be held by Boodles until the jewellers received the funds.

Lakatos was allegedly the woman posing as Anna, who was escorted into the jewellers' basement meeting room on March 10 by Mr Wainwright and the firm's own gemologist, Emma Barton.

Lakatos allegedly pretended to be a woman called Anna
(Image: PA)

Mr Stott said Lakatos purported to examine and weigh each of the seven diamonds before individually wrapping them in pre-cut tissue paper and placing them inside opaque boxes.

"When the examination was complete, the boxes were placed into a zippable purse-like bag, which was then padlocked shut," he told the jury.

The prosecutor said Lakatos placed the locked bag inside her own handbag when Mr Wainwright went upstairs to take a call from the Russian buyer, "Alexander", before Ms Barton told her to put it back on the table.

"The woman posing as Anna looked confused and did as she was told.

"But, unseen by Emma Barton, however, it seems what happened was it was swapped for an identical locked bag and that duplicate bag was placed back on the table," said Mr Stott.

"The locked purse-like bag containing the examined diamonds was then placed inside the shop's safe, and the defendant walked out of the shop."

The court heard that Lakatos then moved a purse-like object from her handbag to the handbag of one of two unknown young women, who had been browsing in the nearby Ralph Lauren and Cartier stores.

Mr Stott said Lakatos, from the Saint-Brieuc region of north-western France, discarded her hat and scarf and changed her clothes in a pub toilet, switching her dark coat for a light one, assisted by another accomplice.

She then used her own passport to leave London on the Eurostar, the court heard.

Jurors were told that two men, Christophe Stankovic and Mickael Jovanovic, made their getaway, with the two younger women, to France in a rented Citroen through the Channel Tunnel.

All of the six allegedly involved were out of the country within three hours of the theft, which was discovered the following day after Boodles sent the bag to be X-rayed, the jury heard.

Lakatos was arrested in France on a European Arrest Warrant in September last year before being extradited to the UK.

She appeared in the dock wearing spectacles and with her grey hair pulled back into a ponytail, and followed proceedings with the help of a French interpreter.

The trial, which is expected to last three days, continues.