The team of alleged burglars — whose operation was likened to an Ocean’s Eleven film — flew into the UK for three high-value break-ins, smashing into homes in search of “fabulous jewellery and cold, hard cash”, it is alleged.
They hit the jackpot at Ms Ecclestone’s £70 million, 55-room mansion near Kensington Palace, evading security guards and raiding her heavily-fortified jewellery cabinet to escape with goods worth £25 million.
Police came within seconds of catching the alleged burglars after a break-in at the Chelsea home of Lampard and his TV presenter wife Christine, Isleworth crown court heard.
It alleged that shopping sprees to Harrods were used to launder stolen cash, while a celebratory champagne lunch was thrown after a £1 million raid on the Knightsbridge home of the late Leicester City chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.
“The plan, quite simply, was to steal as much as possible from some fantastic houses in this city of London,” said prosecutor Timothy Cray QC. “The burglaries netted big money — in round figures £26 million-worth of property was stolen, mainly in some fabulous jewellery and in cold, hard cash.”
Ms Ecclestone, away with her family at the time of the break-in last December, initially believed she had fallen victim to an “inside job”, jurors heard.
Defence barrister Leonard Smith QC said the burglary was “one of the largest ever in this country”, suggesting the security alarm had been “conveniently deactivated”.
“Tamara Ecclestone herself said straight away she thought it had to be an inside job, there is no way someone has got inside this house unless someone had helped them,” he said. But Mr Cray insisted burglars had sneaked past a “fantastic” CCTV system and oblivious security staff — including one guard who had “popped out to Tesco” — who were horrified to discover the raid in progress. “It’s the worst thing that could have happened — burglars are in, nicking 25 million quid’s worth of property and they have failed to do what they are meant to do,” he said. “It looks like the house is just so big the guards didn’t realise there were burglars in and a burglary going on until it was well under way. (The guard) goes to investigate and comes running back in to make a phone call to the other guard, who had popped out to Tesco to pick up groceries. The other security guard drops the trolley and drives a Range Rover through London at high speeds.”
Alexandru Stan, 49, from Edgware, Sorin Marcovici, 53, of Stratford, Maria Mester, 47, from Italy, and her son, Emil Bogdan Savastru, 30, of Stepney Green, are all accused of being the London-based “support team” for alleged burglars from Milan.
Jurors heard the Lampard home was targeted first, on December 1 last year, when the security alarm went off mid-raid and one alleged burglar cut his hand while fleeing with valuables including Christine Lampard’s £36,000 Patek Philippe watch.
Stan is accused of offering his home as “a place to go to regroup and clean up” after the raids, but told police he was oblivious to the burglary plot.
Mr Cray said the homes were put under surveillance before the burglaries, with suspects flying in from Milan, Sweden and Japan. Savastru is accused of having a stolen TAG Heuer watch when arrested, as well as a Louis Vuitton bag belonging to Ms Ecclestone’s husband, Jay Rutland.
All four defendants deny conspiracy to burgle. Mester and Savastru deny conspiracy to commit money laundering. The trial continues.