Jugoslav Jovanovic, 24, Alessandro Maltese, 45 and, Alessandro Donati, 44 all of Milan, pleaded guilty to being involved in the burglaries which took place over a 13-day period in Kensington and Chelsea in late 2019.
On Wednesday, 27 October, Jovanovic also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering.
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.
“But we also recognise that for those targeted, this is not simply about having their possessions stolen. Being a victim of burglary – whoever you are – is traumatic and upsetting and everyone should have the right to feel safe in their own homes. We are pleased justice has now prevailed and that these men will be unable to continue with their criminal lifestyles.”
The court heard that on 13 December 2019, detectives from the Met’s Flying Squad began an investigation after security staff at an address on Palace Green in Kensington, disturbed a robbery in progress.
The suspects escaped with approximately 400 items, including jewellery, bags and £125,000 in cash. In total, the burglary was valued at around £25 million.
Examination of CCTV showed a man – later identified as Jovanovic – standing watch at the end of the street acting as a look out, while Donati, Maltese and another man entered the house through the back garden.
Officers set about gathering CCTV in an attempt to work out where the burglars had travelled to and from and crucially, who they were.
This included tracing and eliminating more than 1,000 taxis in the area to identify the one the group had used when arriving at the Palace Green address, giving them further clues as to their movements before and after the burglaries.
Painstaking analysis of more than 2,000 hours of video footage also showed the group regularly coming and going from London Victoria Station to St Mary Cray in Orpington, but the team still had no way to identify their suspects as they used unregistered Oyster cards to travel into London.
Once clear images had been obtained from this CCTV, they were circulated to law enforcement agencies across the world, leading to the identification of Donati and Maltese. DNA later linked them to the crime scenes.
Jovanovic was identified when officers working on the case travelled to St Mary Cray to carry out further CCTV enquiries. While there, one detective noticed a nearby hotel and decided to enquire as to whether the man they were searching for had previously stayed there.
On request, staff provided the records of recent guests at the hotel during the time of the burglaries and found an ID card that Jovanovic used to book a room matched the image of the suspect they had captured on CCTV.
Continued detective work also led officers to link the burglary at Palace Green to two others reported at nearby properties just days earlier – one on Sunday, 1 December in which watches and jewellery were stolen, and another in Knightsbridge on Tuesday, 10 December. Again watches and cash were stolen along with a collection of Thai Buddha pendants.
The investigation also showed that Jovanovic had been making the most of his new found riches, including spending thousands of pounds in cash in Harrods and opening a store loyalty card. He also arranged a dinner to celebrate the success of the second burglary at a luxury restaurant in Knightsbridge.
While officers now knew the identity of the burglars and had a wealth of evidence against them, they were still unsure of their whereabouts. All three men had fled the country in the days after the burglaries, but working closely with the Italian Squadia de Milano, detectives tracked them down and they were arrested in Italy.
The Met’s Extradition Unit then worked tirelessly to make sure they were brought back to the UK to be prosecuted and face justice.
Another man believed to have played a key role in the burglaries remains wanted by police.
DC Payne added: “This is without doubt one of the Flying Squad’s biggest operations but the successful prosecution is not down to us alone. We worked closely with overseas agencies including the Italian Police in Milan and Europol contacts in countries including Sweden, Serbia and Romania, as well as the London Complex Case Unit of the Crown Prosecution Service.
“Officers from at least 50 departments across the Met also played a role in this investigation, from graphics experts to victim care, interpreters and surveillance.
“All of this resource has ultimately led to an international Organised Crime Network being disrupted and prevented further crimes, some of which would no doubt have taken place on the streets of London and right across Europe.”
Andrew Hadik, from the CPS, said: “These men carried out three high-value burglaries, one of which was the highest value burglary in English legal history. They targeted their chosen victims and ransacked their homes in the dark. They took with them not only money, but irreplaceable items of sentimental value that have never been seen again.
“Donati, Maltese and Jovanovic planned these burglaries meticulously and entered the country with the sole purpose of carrying out these high-value break-ins over 13 days. The prosecution case included witness accounts, CCTV footage and DNA evidence. Jovanovic used his spoils to go shopping at Harrods and had even opened a store loyalty card. The overwhelming evidence against these men meant that they had little choice but to admit their involvement.
“This case included a vast amount of investigative material and required succinct coordination from the dedicated paralegal team who worked hard to overcome its numerous challenges. Burglaries are a blight on our communities and leave victims feeling unsafe in their own homes. The CPS is dedicated to working with the police to bring down these organised groups and take them to court to face justice.”