The gang behind the UK’s biggest burglary is facing jail after stealing £26 million of cash and jewellery from celebrity homes – but the loot has never been recovered.
Socialite Tamara Ecclestone, the 37-year-old daughter of ex-Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, was on holiday in Lapland with her husband, art gallery owner Jay Rutland, their daughter and their dog when their Kensington mansion was ransacked.
About £25 million of jewellery, gems and cash was stolen in what is believed to have been the country’s largest domestic burglary on December 13 2019.
The gang also targeted the west London home of former Chelsea FC midfielder and manager Frank Lampard and his television presenter wife Christine, getting away with £50,000 of watches and jewellery.
Almost £1 million of watches, cash and a collection of Thai Buddha pendants was taken from the property of late Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, which had been turned into a shrine by his family after he died in a helicopter crash in 2018.
The three raids were carried out over 13 days by an international gang of criminals who flew between the UK and Italy, Sweden and Japan.
Almost none of the stolen loot, which is believed to have been taken out of the country, has been recovered and one of the suspected burglars, Daniel Vukovic, 40, who is thought to be in the Serbian capital Belgrade, is still wanted by police.
Full details of the case can be reported after Jugoslav Jovanovic, 24, admitted his part in the plot to launder the proceeds of the burglaries following his extradition from Italy.
Jovanovic, from Milan, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to conspiracy to commit money laundering between December 10 2019 and January 31 last year, in a hearing at Isleworth Crown Court, where he had been due to go on trial.
He had previously admitted conspiracy to burgle between November 29 and December 18 2019 and attempting to convert criminal property, relating to a failed bid to buy two Louis Vuitton jackets from Harrods using stolen cash.
Jovanovic celebrated the second raid on Mr Srivaddhanaprabha’s home by organising a lavish dinner at a luxury Knightsbridge sushi restaurant.
He will be sentenced on November 15 alongside Italian nationals Alessandro Maltese, 45, and Alessandro Donati, 44, who were also extradited to the UK and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to burgle.
Detective Constable Andrew Payne, from the Met’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 the first stage of their plan which saw them carry out what is believed to be the largest residential burglary in UK history.
“They no doubt thought they had got away with their crimes but little did they know how determined we were to identify them and bring them back to the UK to face justice.
“The evidence against them was so overwhelming that they were left with no other option than to plead guilty and that is down to the sheer hard work of the team working on this case.
“Almost all of the property stolen in these burglaries has never been seen again, thanks in a large part to Jovanovic’s successful money laundering. This is a huge loss for the victims for whom many of the items were of sentimental value.”
In January, Romanian nationals Alexandru Stan, 50, Sorin Marcovici, 54, Maria Mester, 48, and Emil Bogdan Savastru, 30, were cleared of conspiracy to commit burglary following a two-month trial, after jurors decided they were not part of the “supporting cast”.