AN INTERNATIONAL ring of “Mission Impossible burglars” flew into London to carry out a £26 million blitz on rich and famous victims including F1 heiress Tamara Ecclestone, a court heard.
During a 13-day period, the four “professional thieves” also allegedly targeted the homes of late Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and Chelsea manager Frank Lampard before fleeing Britain.
Tamara Ecclestone’s Kensington mansion was allegedly targeted by a gang of ‘professional thieves’Credit: David Dyson
The trial of a mother and son accused of assisting the Italy-based gang, heard how a £25 million booty was stolen from Tamara and husband Jay Rutland’s Kensington home on December 13 last yearCredit: Corbis – Getty
The ‘burglars’ also allegedly targeted the home of Frank and Christine LampardCredit: Reuters
The trial of a mother and son accused of assisting the Italy-based gang, heard how a £25 million booty was stolen from Tamara and husband Jay Rutland’s Kensington home on December 13 last year.
Jurors heard the couple’s £70m mansion in Kensington Palace Gardens was so large that security staff did not even notice the alleged thieves breaking in through the back garden.
The alarms were switched off when the alleged intruders broke in and one of the guards was on a shopping trip to Tesco, the court was told.
Three days earlier, property worth £1million was taken from the Knightsbridge house of Thai billionaire Mr Srivaddhanaprabha, killed in a helicopter crash at Leicester’s stadium in October 2018.
Goods valued at £60,000 were taken from the Chelsea home of Frank Lampard and TV presenter wife Christine on December 1, the first of the linked series of high value break-ins.
Isleworth crown court heard the success of the raids left the gang with “money to burn” and they blew thousands in upmarket shops and restaurants.
Virtually all of the stolen property from the victims remains missing, jurors were told.
Milan-based prostitute Mester, 47, and bar worker son Emil Bogdan Savastru, 29, are accused of being part of the alleged burglary team’s “supporting cast” with Alexandru Stan, 49, and Sorin Marcovici, 53.
Their trial opened yesterday and can now be reported after an order was lifted by the judge.
The home of late Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was also allegedly targetedCredit: PA:Press Association
Milan-based Mester, her son Savastru, of Bethnal Green, East London, Stan, of Harrow, Middlesex, and security guard Marcovici, of Romford, East London, all deny conspiracy to burgle.
Prosecutor Timothy Cray, QC, said the gang’s four helpers had “signed up” to a plan whose aim “was to steal as much as possible from some fantastic houses in London.”
Opening the case, Mr Cray went on: “The burglaries netted big money – in round figures £26 million worth of property was stolen, mainly in fabulous jewellery and cash.
“Virtually all that property has never been seen again. It was successfully laundered – concealed and disguised.”
The court heard how within five days of the gang’s last raid, the four alleged thieves and Mester left the UK “almost certainly with the proceeds of the crimes.”
Mester – who flew to Belgarde with one of the burglary team – was eventually arrested at Stansted on January 31, returning to London while wearing a pair of earrings stolen from the raid on Tamara and Jay, the court heard.
She wore a necklace taken in the same raid in a Facebook photo posted on January 1, the court heard.
Her son Savastru was held on January 30 as he was about to fly out from Heathrow to Japan while allegedly in possession of a Tag Heuer Connected SmartWatch belonging to Leicester’s late owner.
Tamara is the daughter of ex Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone
He also had a Louis Vuitton designer bag identical to one stolen from Tamara and Jay, the court heard.
Mr Cray said: “There were no arrests up until the end of January this year.
“Up to then the people involved must have believed that they were scot-free, that they had vanished from the law’s radar just as effectively as the property they had stolen had vanished.”
The prosecutor said the thieves had been organised and “did not just happen to find their way to the target houses by chance” or “steal and launder £26 million by luck.”
The success of the alleged burglary plan took “time and effort,” said Mr Cray.
He added there was evidence of research and scouting trips on targets along with “concealment of identities and communications and the use of a support network.”
Mr Cray said the gang were “international,” adding: “Parts of the evidence look like a pre-Covid arrivals board at a London airport…”
He said those involved in the alleged burglary plan were “flying in and out of Italy, Sweden and Japan and then being seen in the more ritzy parts of London.”
The court heard how alleged gang members went on shopping sprees in Harrods and celebrated the success of the raid on the late Leicester chief with an expensive meal at a top restaurant.
The first two members of the Italy-based ‘burglary’ team flew into the UK from Milan via Stockholm on November 30, and carried out the burglary on the Lampards the following day.
Maria Mester, 47, was arrested as she landed at Stansted from ItalyCredit: Refer to Caption
The men – who cannot be named – booked into an Airbnb apartment in St Mary Cray, near Orpington, Kent, from where they travelled into London to hit their targets.
Mr Cray opened the case by describing how one of the men rang the bell of a “lovely house in West London” shortly before 7.15pm on Sunday 1 December.
He said: “The house was owned by a famous couple. Christine Lampard, who is a TV presenter, and her husband Frank Lampard, who is the manager of Chelsea FC.”
Mr Cray said the man “was not interested in meeting Christine or Frank Lampard, in fact he very much did not want to meet them – he was checking to make sure they were not in.
“His act of ringing on their front door was one of the early steps in the execution of a dishonest plan – a plan made by professional thieves.
“A plan which, we say, these four defendants in their different ways, signed up to and were part of.”
Mr Cray went on: “Having first checked that no one was in, they (the burglars) made their way to an adjoining street and gained entry by the back garden.
“They stole watches, a clock and a pair of cufflinks.
“The alarm went off and they had to get out before the police arrived – the police came to the front and just missed them.
“It looks like either going in or out, one of the burglars cut his hands climbing over a wall that was protected with broken glass.”
They stole watches, a clock and a pair of cufflinks
One of the watches stolen included an expensive Patek Phillipe, the court heard.
The two ‘thieves’ were allegedly assisted by Stan on that raid and made their way afterwards to his home where they were given a change of clothing by him, it is claimed.
Stan is said to have met up twice with them afterwards but then ceased contact, forcing the alleged burglars to call Mester over from Milan on December 7 to help, the court heard.
Mr Cray said Mester had contacted co-accused Marcovici the next day on December 8 and introduced him to the two thieves at London’s Victoria station.
The second wave of the four-man ‘burglary’ team then arrived in Britain when two more thieves came from Italy on December 9.
The four bandits then carried out the raids together on the homes of the former Leicester owner and Tamara and Jay, it is alleged.
They allegedly used Marcovici to drive them from their suburban base at the TLK Apartments to West London to recce the home of late tycoon Vichai.
At lunchtime on December 10 he was asked by text for a “cutting torch” to break into safes at Vichai’s home, jurors heard.
But Mr Cray said Marcovici had pulled out of the plan that day, claiming he was working on his car and afterwards played no further part in the conspiracy.
Jurors heard the Ecclestone’s £70m mansion in Kensington Palace Gardens was so large that security staff did not even notice the thieves breaking in through the back gardenCredit: Getty Images – Getty
The alleged burglary gang raided the home of Mr Srivaddhanaprabha in Walton Place that night.
Mr Cray said: “The location is in sight of one of the entrances to Harrods.
“Having checked that no one was in, the burglars forced entry to the house through the patio windows.
“They then ransacked the five floors including attempts to force safes, one of which they did manage to break into.
“The break-in seems to be by fairly brutal means, by banging it with hammers.
“They got away with £1 million in property, including more expensive watches such as a Patek Phillipe and a haul in cash in the safe was about 400,000 euros.”
On the day after the raid, the four alleged burglars and Mester had a £760 lunch at the Zuma Japanese restaurant on Raphael Street, Knightsbridge.
Mr Cray said: “There seems to have been some small celebration, a Chateaux Ruinart rosé champagne, a small celebration to clink the glasses perhaps?”
Mester’s son Savastru then arrived back in London from Japan on December 12 and the following day the gang hit Tamara and Jay’s Palace Green mansion.
Mr Cray said three of the gang broke in through the back of the property while the fourth kept watch at the bottom of the road near a Chinese restaurant.
Property worth £1million was taken from the Knightsbridge house of Thai billionaire Mr SrivaddhanaprabhaCredit: Getty Images – Getty
The prosecutor went on: “This family is wealthy, the family had a team of security guards keeping watch.
“The guards were there but the guards missed the men coming through the back garden as you see.
“Once in the house, the house is just so big that the guards didn’t realise the burglars were in and didn’t realise what was going on until the burglary was underway.”
The court heard how one of the guards had gone to Tesco by Land Rover to collect some groceries when the gang broke in.
He was called by phone by the remaining guard after he noticed the intruders on CCTV, said Mr Cray.
The shopping guard dropped the groceries and drove the Land Rover back to the mansion, said Mr Cray, “to what they would think is the worst thing that could happen – to find £25m had been stolen.”
He added: “The security guards present did not see the men enter through the back garden.
“Although the guards disturbed them at the end, they(the gang) made their getaway via a series of taxis back to Orpington, leaving behind at the property two of their burner mobile telephones.”
Mr Cray added: “The burglary is done, they’ve got away, and to them that must be worth more than one bottle of champagne when they decide to celebrate.”
‘MONEY TO BURN’
On 17 December 2019, Savastru and Mester went to Harrods to do some Christmas shopping with one of the alleged burglars.
“They purchased over £3,000 of goods using cash and then left,” Mr Cray said.
“Judged by the amount they had on the footage, there was money to burn.”
Following the prosecution opening, defending barristers were allowed to briefly address the jury.
Stan’s lawyer David Jeremy said his client had no knowledge of any burglaries.
Mester’s counsel Glenn Smith said the Ecclestone burglary had been an “inside job.”
He said: “The house is situated on one of the most expensive roads in the UK, if not the world.
“A road that is so heavily guarded that it contains the Israeli embassy, the Russian embassy, the home of Roman Abramovich, it’s opposite Kensington Palace itself.
“It’s an extraordinary road, yet for an hour, just after the security of alarms had been conveniently deactivated by one of the guards, the burglars ransacked the jewellery.
“Itself behind fortifications and locked doors, kept in a carbonate itself locked in a massive house but somehow they got into it just after the alarm was deactivated.
“They somehow got into the room, someone into the jewellery cabinet, all with no damage.
“Tamara herself straight away thought ‘This is an inside job, there’s no way someone could get into this house unless someone had helped.’”
Goods valued at £60,000 were taken from the Chelsea home of Frank Lampard and TV presenter wife Christine on December 1, the first of the linked series of high value break-insCredit: Refer to Caption
The barrister disputed the prosecutor’s account that the alleged burglary team were “of the highest vocation, planned professionals..”
Mr Smith said: “He (the prosecutor) said it was real Mission Impossible stuff to have thought of doing that job and pulling it off.”
He insisted his client Mester, “is loud she is not discrete she is a veritable volcano, a million miles away from the high class professional international jewel thief.
‘She is a call girl, she worked for that week in London for one of the alleged burglars who the prostitutes say is one of the burglars.
“She was in London for a good time, shopping and sightseeing, but not when important matters were discussed.
“She was very well paid for it, 46,000 euros for the week’s escort.
“They gave her some earrings for her birthday, she thought “great” and wore them for a New Year’s Eve party, she put it on Facebook.
“That’s how discreet she is, that’s how professional she is, that’s how she lies low.
“An unknowing decoy yes, planner of an international quality burglary, not in a million years.”
Henry Grunwald for Macovici, said he denies any knowledge or involvement in the burglaries.
Adam Cain, for Savastru, said his client had been on holiday in Japan with a toothache until 12 December when he returned and helped book properties for his mother and the alleged burglars.
He said Savastru found the Louis Vuitton bag in the rented flat and thought they had been left for him.
Mester denies three counts of conspiracy to commit burglary and concealing criminal property.
Savastru denies two counts of conspiracy to burgle and attempting to remove criminal property.
Stan and Marcovici deny conspiracy to burgle.
The case continues.
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