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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 July, 2004, 11:19 GMT 12:19 UK
Shoestring budget for £23m gem robbery
by Jeremy Britton
BBC reporter at the Old Bailey

A Serb gunman from Kosovo has been found guilty of taking part in a £23m jewel robbery in London's West End. A second man had already pleaded guilty. BBC News Online examines who the gang were and what happened to the £20m worth of jewels still missing.

It only took a wig, a revolver and a second hand scooter for an East European gang to steal £23m worth of gems from one of London's most prestigious jewellery stores - all in three minutes flat.

Graff's shopfront
The robbers pretended to be legitimate customers
The robbery at Graff jewellers in May last year is believed to be one of the biggest recorded in the UK, but it was just the latest in a whole series of gem shop hold ups the same gang had pulled off across Europe and even in Japan.

It highlights the disturbing ease with which a new breed of Euro-criminals are able to cross borders to strike at high value targets and then disappear with their takings.

The Graff conspiracy involved three key players, all originally from the former Yugoslavia.

Nebojsa Denic, 33, and Milan Jovetic, 24, were convicted at the Old Bailey but a third man, known as "Marco", who was the alleged mastermind, remains at large.

In May 2003 Denic flew from Zurich to Luton.

This was a targeted operation...It's just one of a series of crimes committed by various East European crime gangs across Europe and possibly further afield. In Europe it's endemic
Detective Inspector Andy Dunn
Although he came from Kosovo and had Serbian parents, he had lived for 11 years in Switzerland.

Denic and his wife Ljiliana led a respectable life, both working in the local hospital. They had two young children.

He told his wife he was going to meet a friend, who he had befriended on holiday in Belgrade the year before, and who had promised to show him around London.

Jovetic was already living in London as an illegal immigrant, having overstayed his visitor's permit. He lived with his fiancée Ana Stankovic in Bayswater.

On 2 May Marco and a female accomplice pretending to be his fiancée walked into the exclusive store in New Bond Street and asked to see a £37,000 ring, supposedly considering it as an engagement present.

Celebrity clients

Graff was an obvious target. It has a worldwide reputation and its clients number Naomi Campbell, Mike Tyson and Ivana Trump. David Beckham reportedly bought his wife Victoria a Graff diamond necklace for Christmas.

Two days after they visited the shop, Marco and Jovetic bought a second hand Piaggio scooter from a man in Isleworth, west London.

On 20 May Denic, dressed in a smart suit and carrying an umbrella, walked into Graff and was allowed through the security door into the salesroom containing the jewellery showcases.

Denic and Jovetic
Denic and Jovetic were convicted for their roles
But staff remembered how they tried not to stare at the ridiculously large black wig he was wearing.

"I thought he was a rock star or had a disease," one saleswoman told the trial.

Denic asked to look at a 12 carat diamond ring worth £300,000 but said: "It's too big. Do you have a smaller one?".

At this point Marco was allowed into the store. Denic then reached inside his jacket and produced a .357 Magnum revolver, shouting "Get down, get down" to the staff.

I thought he was a rock star or had a disease
Graff saleswoman
In the next three minutes Marco broke into two cabinets and bundled the jewels into a drawstring bag before running out with Denic.

But security guard Simon Stearman ran after them and as he grappled Denic to the ground the gun went off - the bullet rebounding off a wall and hitting a passer-by a glancing blow on the nose.

Marco got away with the jewels but the subsequent police investigation led to Jovetic's flat.

There they found a single blue diamond worth £500,000 in a tub of baby cream - it was Jovetic's share from the robbery.

Jovetic later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to rob Graff and to handling stolen goods. All charges against Stankovic were dropped.

Missing gems

Of the 47 items taken from Graff only 10% have been recovered.

Some stones were discovered at a New York jewel grading house, sent from Tel Aviv.

The remaining £20m worth of jewels have disappeared.

Detective Inspector Andy Dunn from the Metropolitan Police's Flying Squad led the police investigation.

He told the BBC: "This was a targeted operation. London is one of the biggest jewellery centres in Europe. But it's just one of a series of crimes committed by various East European crime gangs across Europe and possibly further afield. In Europe it's endemic."

'Borders are no longer barriers'

A spokesman for the National Criminal Intelligence Service, who specialise in analysing crime trends, said: "Borders are not seen as barriers any more - the appeal of a job like this comes from making it difficult for judicial systems to pursue criminals.

"It's classic of top level criminality to not be from the country in which you commit the crime."

In May 2004 a Serbian man, Pedja Vujosevic, 29, and his partner, Gorana Pajic, were arrested in Paris where he is being detained on suspicion of a robbery committed in March last year where two men stole a large amount of expensive watches.

They are wanted for questioning by the Met in connection with the Graff robbery.

The BBC's Luisa Baldini
"The police are still trying to recover most of the diamonds"

Men guilty of £23m gems robbery
20 Jul 04  |  London


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