A woman accused of swapping diamonds for pebbles in a £4.2 million heist has blamed the theft on her late sister, a court has heard.
Lulu Lakatos, 60, claims it was Liliana Lakatos who posed as gem expert “Anna” to switch a padlocked purse containing the precious stones for an identical duplicate at a luxury Mayfair jewellers.
Anna was sent to examine seven diamonds on behalf of a group posing as wealthy Russian buyers following a lunch meeting at Monaco’s Hotel Metropole with Boodles boss Nicholas Wainwright.
The gems were to be placed in a padlocked purse and held in the jewellers’ vault until funds were transferred.
When the bag was opened after Boodles’ own diamond expert, Emma Barton, became suspicious, inside were seven small garden pebbles, the court has heard.
Prosecutors claim the fake gemmologist Anna was Lakatos, who denies conspiracy to steal on or before March 10 2016 at Southwark Crown Court, where she is standing trial.
But defence barrister Ioana Nedelcu said on Thursday: “The defence raised a defence of identity and stated the person on the camera is Liliana Lakatos, her sister.”
The court heard Ms Barton picked out Liliana, who had a string of convictions for theft and was wanted in Switzerland for theft and fraud, as the person who stole the diamonds in an identification procedure.
Finger marks left on the glass table in the Boodles showroom could not be matched to Lulu Lakatos’s prints, while a mixed DNA profile was recovered from the pebbles which could not exclude either sister from contributing to it, jurors were told.
Giving evidence through a French interpreter, Romanian-born Lakatos said her younger sister had lived with her in an apartment in Saint-Brieuc, Brittany, but had died in a car crash, aged 49, in Romania in October 2019.
“She had an accident and passed away,” she said before being shown a death certificate.
The court heard Lakatos has three previous convictions for theft in France up to 2006 but the defendant said she changed her ways finding work in schools, canteens and as a cleaner.
“I went through a difficult time financially. I know it’s wrong to do it,” she told jurors.
“I have stopped because I was too scared to carry on with my life like this, so I tried to find other means.”
Lakatos said she had not been in the UK since a trip with her sister and Georgeta Danila – another woman said to have been involved in the Boodles theft – in 2012.
She told the jury Liliana confessed to the crime after Danila was held by police months before her death, and admitted she had previously used Lakatos’s passport to enter the country.
Her barrister asked her: “From the CCTV we watched yesterday, are you able to assist the jury with who is the person who is called Anna throughout these proceedings?”
“This is my sister Liliana Lakatos,” the defendant said.
“When her friend Georgeta Danila has been stopped, this is when she confessed about the passport and everything else.”
Asked how she felt, Lakatos said: “At first I was angry and she promised she will do everything to sort it out.”
Lakatos said her sister tried to contact the police in Paris, where she often stayed with her partner.
Ms Nedelcu said: “Do you believe your sister wanted to get you into trouble?”
Lakatos answered: “No, not at all.”
The trial continues.