On Sunday, December 1, 2019, just before 7:15pm, a young man rang a West London doorbell.
The £12 million property belonged to the TV presenter Christine Lampard and her husband Frank, the former Chelsea and England footballer.
The caller didn’t want to meet with the Lampards. In fact, it was the exact opposite. He was checking they were out — the first step in a plan to target three homes belonging to three very rich, very famous individuals.
The second house on the burglars’ list was the Knightsbridge home of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha — the billionaire chairman of Leicester City football club, who the previous year had tragically died in a helicopter crash at Leicester’s stadium.
He made his fortune in duty free retail in Thailand and his home was left untouched after his death.
The third and final property to be hit was the jewel in the crown, so to speak — the £70 million, 55-room mansion near Kensington Palace belonging to Tamara Ecclestone, the daughter of the billionaire former Formula One supremo Bernie, and her husband Jay Rutland.
In a plot worthy of a hit heist movie, the gang managed to evade the tightest of security and plunder jewellery and cash worth £26 million — £25 million of which came from the Ecclestones’ property alone — before seemingly vanishing into thin air.
It is the highest value burglary in English criminal history — and most of the loot, believed to have been smuggled abroad, has never been recovered.
The third and final property to be hit was the jewel in the crown, so to speak — the £70 million, 55-room mansion near Kensington Palace belonging to Tamara Ecclestone, the daughter of the billionaire former Formula One supremo Bernie, and her husband Jay Rutland (pictured together)
According to reports, the 37 year-old socialite was left terrified by the raid. Her daughter has asked ever since if they are ‘coming back.
Flying Squad detectives examined more than 2,000 hours video footage and relentlessly pursued those who were responsible. Eventually, they identified four key suspects.
While one remains on the run, the other three — Alessandro Maltese, 45, Alessandro Donati, 44, and Jugoslav Jovanovic, 24 — were extradited from Italy to Britain to face the music.
Yesterday, Jovanovic, who was due to stand trial at Isleworth Crown Court on Tuesday, followed the other two and finally admitted his full role in the brazen raids and subsequent laundering.
He had previously admitted conspiracy and one count to attempting to convert criminal properties in relation to a failed attempt to buy two Louis Vuitton jackets at Harrods with stolen cash.
He initially denied laundering proceeds from the three heists, but yesterday pleaded guilty.
Following his plea, Detective Constable Andrew Payne, of Scotland Yard’s Flying Squad, said: ‘These defendants were part of a highly sophisticated plot which ultimately had just one aim — to steal as much as possible from these three homes and flee the United Kingdom with precious stones, including diamonds, and cash.
“They were successful in executing their first stage of the plan. . . They believed they had escaped with their crimes, but they did not realize how determined they were to find them and bring them back home to face justice.
“The evidence against them was so overwhelming that they had no other choice but to plead guilty.”
Jovanovic’s admission, while all three men will be sentenced to prison on November 15, means that the entire story of the break-ins, also known as the “burglaries of century”, can now be told.
Police explained that after conducting initial reconnaissance on London mansions belonging a number celebrities, the gang decided to target high-profile targets. They had spent a lot of time watching each house and then made their selection.
The Lampards and Ecclestones were likely chosen due to the high value of their products and accessibility.
Prosecutors say the burglars were looking for two things: fabulous jewellery’ as well as cold hard cash’. Combined, the thieves would end up stealing about £26 million worth of property.
The break-in at the Lampards’ house would net the burglars items worth £60,000.
A court heard that 24-year-old Jovanovic and a second burglar — both of whom had flown in to London the previous day — broke into the house between 7.10pm and 8pm that evening.
After checking that no one was present, they made their way towards a nearby street and gained access to the back garden.
Once in, they stole watches including Mrs Lampard’s £36,000 Patek Philippe Nautilus rose gold ladies watch, a clock and a pair of cufflinks.
Nine days later, on the 10th of December, they turned their attention towards Mr Srivaddhanaprabha’s property. It had been made into a shrine in his memory after he was killed in a helicopter crash in 2018.
Two other gang members, Donati (from Italy) and Maltese (from Italy), joined them the day before.
After checking that no one was inside, they broke into the house through patio windows and gained access to one of the safes.
They left with £1 million-worth of property, including more Patek Philippe watches and £360,000 in euros.
On the evening of December 13, the final burglary occurred. According to court evidence, CCTV footage showed Donati, Maltese, and a third burglar entering through the back yard, while Jovanovic stood guard at the street’s end.
They would escape with a haul valued at £25 million — this included £145,000 in cash and 450 items of jewellery stolen from heavily fortified cabinets in Ms Ecclestone’s boutique-style jewellery rooms for her Hermes and Chanel goods.
Rings, earrings and an £80,000 Cartier bangle wedding gift were taken.
During court proceedings, it was claimed the raids were similar to something in Mission: Impossible, a Tom Cruise film.
However, details later revealed that the raiders were fortunate not to have been captured on a number occasions.
Jovanovic carried out the £25million heist at Ms Ecclestone’s Kensington property (pictured) with expert jewel thieves Alessandro Maltese, 45, nicknamed the ‘Pink Panther’, and 44-year-old Alessandro Donati
During the raid on the Lampards house, the burglars activated an alarm. They had to flee the back door as the police arrived at the front.
They scaled a wall at their rear and one of them broke through glass embedded on top. This left vital DNA clues behind.
At Mr Srivaddhanaprabha’s house they attempted to gain entry to four safes but, despite arming themselves with a cutting torch, ended up only getting in to one of them — with a hammer.
On the day after the raid they were caught on CCTV celebrating with a £760 lunch including bottles of Chateaux Ruinart rose champagne at the Zuma Japanese restaurant on Raphael Street, Knightsbridge — a stone’s throw from the house they had broken into.
The raid on Ecclestones was not only one of the most daring, but also raised the most eyebrows.
The property is located on a road that has other security-obsessed people like the Russian and Israeli embassies as well as a home belonging Roman Abramovich.
Ms. Ecclestone, her husband and daughter, had traveled to Lapland for a holiday on the day of the raid.
It is claimed that when she heard the raid on the impregnable’ property, she believed it to be an ‘inside job.
Security personnel, however, claimed that the burglars were’very lucky’.
The alarm was temporarily disabled, but the guards were not aware that they had broken into the rear.
Their arrival coincided with one of the guards going to Tesco to fuel his Land Rover and get a side dish.
The burglars set off an alarm in the Lampards’ home and fled as soon as police arrived.
The remaining guard called him by phone after he saw the intruders on CCTV. He dropped the groceries and raced back.
The burglars were not disturbed but they managed to escape the way they got in. Detectives told how they then fled the scene, not in a getaway car but in black cabs — paying in cash and swapping cars multiple times during their journey — that took them back to a short-let apartment in Orpington, Kent.
Two of their burner phones were left behind at the property.
Police were convinced that the four-strong burglary team did not act on their own.
They made the first arrests of four Romanians who detectives claimed were responsible in part for planning accommodation, transport, and communications for the main gang.
They were Alexandru, 49, Maria Mester 48, Sorin Marcovici 53, Emil Bogdan Savastru 30.
Stan, according to some reports, helped with logistics for the Lampard Burglary. He even lent a pair o’ trousers to one of those burglars who was bleeding after the raid.
Mester arrived in the country after Marcovici, her childhood friend, suggested that she assumed the role as’matriarch’.
They were all charged with conspiracy to burgle. Their case was brought to trial at Isleworth Crown Court in November.
The jury was told that Mester was wearing rose gold diamond drop earrings from Ms Ecclestone when she was arrested six weeks following the burglaries.
She had also posted a photo on Facebook of herself at a New Year party wearing a stolen necklace —one of only 15 made — that had been purchased for the socialite by her husband.
Savastru, meanwhile, was caught with Ecclestone’s Louis Vuitton bag and Frank Lampard’s Tag Heuer smartwatch, worth a total of £2,500, as he attempted to leave the country.
Mester said that she was only being invited to London to perform sex for one of the burglars, believing he to be a legitimate property developer.
She described him as a ‘fat goose’ who paid her £5,000 a week and said that the jewellery had been given to her as a gift for her escort services. The defendants’ lawyers claimed that they did not know about the burglaries.
After a two-month trial, all four were found not guilty of conspiring to burglarize the homes. Savastru was convicted for one count, attempting to conceal criminal material in relation to the watch and bag.
He was held for six months and released after having completed the sentence on remand.
His mother was sentenced for refusing to give police her PIN number.
She said that she was protecting her clients and declined to do so. She had also served time on remand so she too walked out of the courthouse and into a Rolls-Royce.
Rings, earrings and an £80,000 Cartier bangle wedding gift (pictured) were taken during the raid on the Eccelestones’ home
Scotland Yard detectives worked tirelessly to track the burglars following the break-ins.
As were phone records, hundreds upon hours of CCTV footage had been analysed. It would take months for the major players to be identified and brought before justice was served. In July last year, Maltese was the first Italian to be detained.
Donati was also captured soon afterward.
Dr Francesco Giustolisi of the Milan Flying Squad told the Daily Mail that they were identified by Italian police following Scotland Yard’s provision of phone numbers and CCTV images of unidentified suspects.
Maltese was previously convicted of theft. He also said that Donati had been previously arrested for theft and was caught with the type of skeleton keys used in break-ins. Also, he matched photos sent from England.
After being extradited from the UK, they both appeared in court separately in April. Both pleaded guilty for conspiracy to burgle.
Angelo Pariani (Donati’s lawyer) stated to the Italian media that Donati has admitted his responsibilities but not that it was because he is the leader.
He said that any prison sentence would be served by Italy under the extradition agreement.
Yesterday, Jovanovic, third gang member, admitted to his part in laundering proceeds from the heists just moments before his trial was scheduled to begin.
He had previously admitted conspiracy and money laundering at an earlier hearing.
He was arrested in October. It was reported in the Italian press that he was believed to be the mastermind behind the raid, despite being young.
After the theft, he is reported to have returned home to Italy and vanished.
Italian police took the gang under observation and found they had a base at Santa Marinella (a beach resort near Rome) They discovered that a man was regularly delivering croissants, cappuccino, and other goodies to the property every day.
The gang attacked the Knightsbridge home in Walton Place of Mr Srivaddhanaprabha (pictured), on December 10. The raid occurred more than a decade after Mr. Srivaddhanaprabha was killed in a helicopter accident following a Leicester City match.
Police in Milan alerted that one of the gang members was wanted in the UK and raided the villa with armed officers.
According to a source from police, Jovanovic, who was being arrested, was described as ‘ultra cool’ by officers and said: ‘Bravo. My compliments.
He refused to answer further questions.
Jovanovic’s uncle Daniel Vukovic (another member of the gang) is believed to have fled to Serbia, where he is fighting extradition.
The trio that was captured will be sentenced on November 15th.
What about the loot, you ask?
According to the evidence presented at the first trial testimony, not a single item of the stolen goods was recovered.
Timothy Cray, QC stated that ‘virtually all of the property has never again been seen’. ‘It was successfully laundered — concealed and disguised.’
While some of the cash was spent in the UK — the gang made a number of lavish purchases in Harrods — it is believed the jewellery left the country soon after the raids.
Numerous gang members are believed to have connections to the Monte Bisbino Roma gypsy camp, which is near Milan.
The Italian press speculates that the gold items stolen from London could have been melted down in one of the camp’s notorious ‘factories’. This would make them impossible to trace.
Whatever the truth, burglars will face confiscation Orders, which are used by British courts to force criminals into giving over the proceeds of their crimes.
Failure to comply can lead to a longer sentence in prison and interest added to the amount owing. Which, from a £26 million starting point, could result in a very large figure indeed