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Dublin: 7°C Tuesday 25 January 2022

Gang members jailed over Britain’s biggest burglary spree targeting celebrities

Italian nationals Jugoslav Jovanovic, Alessandro Maltese, and Alessandro Donati were behind three raids in west London over just 13 days.

Jay Rutland and Tamara Ecclestone were among the celebrities targeted by the gang.
Jay Rutland and Tamara Ecclestone were among the celebrities targeted by the gang.
Image: David Parry/PA

THREE MEMBERS OF the gang that stole £26 million (€30.68 million) worth of cash, jewellery and gems from celebrity homes in Britain’s biggest ever burglary spree have been jailed.

Italian nationals Jugoslav Jovanovic, 24, Alessandro Maltese, 45, and Alessandro Donati, 44, were behind three raids in west London over just 13 days in December 2019.

Victims included former Chelsea FC midfielder and manager Frank Lampard, 43, and his 42-year-old television presenter wife Christine, the late Leicester City FC owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, and socialite Tamara Ecclestone.

Ecclestone, 37, the daughter of ex-Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, was on holiday in Lapland with her husband, art gallery owner Jay Rutland, 38, their daughter and their dog when their mansion in Palace Green, Kensington, was raided on 13 December.

Hundreds of items of jewellery, cash, diamonds and precious stones worth £25 million (€29.5 million) were stolen from the 2,000 square-foot property, which is spread over six floors, in what is believed to have been the country’s biggest ever domestic burglary.

Police said the gang are believed to have carried out similar crimes against high-profile victims across Europe and had planned to commit further raids on the rich and famous in the UK.

Detectives have not revealed the identities of other potential victims, who did not know how close they came to being burgled as the thieves carried out reconnaissance missions and dummy runs.

Jovanovic, Maltese and Donati were extradited from Italy and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to burgle between 29 November and 18 December 2019 over the three raids.

Jovanovic also admitted conspiracy to commit money laundering between 10 December 2019 and 31 January last year, and one count of attempting to convert criminal property.

He was jailed for 11 years by Judge Martin Edmunds QC at Isleworth Crown Court on Monday, while Maltese and Donati were each sentenced to eight years and nine months in prison.

The men, who were brought to court under armed police guard as a helicopter flew overhead, will return to Italy to serve their sentences following proceeds of crime proceedings in the UK.

The judge told them: “In November and December 2019, each of you flew into this country to take your parts in targeting the west London homes of well-known and wealthy people.

“The fact that each burglary was accomplished despite the precautions of the householders, that so much was stolen and then, it is to be inferred, removed from the country and not recovered speaks to the overall organisation, planning and criminal determination, together with a willingness to take chances.

“You did so in the hope of substantial gain for yourselves but regardless of the loss to those people – not only of objects of financial value but of objects of deep personal significance and of the sense of safety and security that anyone is entitled to feel in their own home.”

The judge said the gang had chosen their targets because of the “celebrity of their occupiers”, adding: “The distress caused by the burglary of a home of householders who may be well-known or wealthy is no less than that caused to those in different circumstances.

“The acute distress caused to children, or the fear for the safety of children, is a particular feature.

“There have been life-changing effects on the victim’s own sense of safety.”

A fourth member of the gang, Daniel Vukovic, 44, believed to be a Serbian national who uses a string of aliases, fled to the capital Belgrade, where he is still thought to be following a failed extradition bid.

Prosecutor Timothy Cray QC said he was “the prime mover in organising the team in the UK” which “planned and executed the highest value burglaries that have ever come to light” in the country.

Only a handful of items have been recovered with the rest of the £26 million worth of loot believed to have been taken abroad.

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“It’s buried treasure somewhere, globally,” said the Met’s Detective Constable Andrew Payne.

“The plots are comparable to what you would see in a Hollywood movie but unfortunately this was real life, involving real victims who have suffered greatly by their actions.”

The Lampards had around £60,000 (€70,795) in watches and jewellery stolen while they were out of their Chelsea property on 1 December.

On 10 December, the gang targeted Srivaddhanaprabha’s Knightsbridge home, which had been turned into a shrine by his family following his death, aged 60, in a helicopter crash shortly after take-off from the King Power Stadium on 27 October, 2018.

Among more than £1 million (€1.18 million) in property stolen was a TAG Heuer watch he was wearing before he left for Leicester that day.

The burglars even popped a £500 (€590) bottle of Cristal champagne to drink as they carried out the raid and later celebrated with a £760 (€897) sushi meal in Knightsbridge restaurant Zuma.

On the way to the final £25 million burglary, Maltese stole a packet of chewing gum from a kiosk at Victoria station as the gang stopped to buy coffee and pastries.

Jovanovic and his uncle Vukovic were later seen on CCTV in Harrods department store spending thousands of pounds on luxury goods and signing up for loyalty cards using fake names.

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