Robbers ripped Patek Philippe watch off victim's wrist in Mayfair crime spree

Organised moped gang identified targets in London before snatching luxury watches worth as much as £100,000

The gang operated in Mayfair, left, and other central London areas, snatching watches by brands including Patek Philippe, right. Alamy / Getty Images
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A gang of thieves from Algeria and Libya snatched designer watches worth hundreds of thousands of pounds from victims during a two-month crime spree in London, a court has heard.

Salem Belckacem, 30, headed the gang who rode around on mopeds looking for wealthy victims in Mayfair and other areas of central London.

They stole watches worth between £10,000 and £100,000 each, which have never been recovered.

The victims later described their shock and anger at being robbed and how it has made them wary of wearing expensive items in the city.

The value of luxury watches stolen in the UK has passed £1 billion ($1.3 billion) in a year for the first time, research shows, amid fears the thefts are “out of control”.

Prosecutor Miles Trigg told Southwark Crown Court the “robberies were carried out in an organised fashion with different defendants playing different roles”.

“There were spotters who identify the victim wearing the expensive watches. The spotters would follow and observe the victim until a robber and a getaway moped could reach the scene,” he said.

Mr Trigg told the court how victim Alexandre Baudoin was robbed by Belckacem and Mehdi Zouhri, 30, in Mayfair, on 3 April as he sat outside the Cube Restaurant.

CCTV showed Mr Baudoin stretching in the sun with his £65,000 watch on his wrist in plain sight. Zouhri and another man could be seen watching him outside the restaurant.

“Mr Zouhri is seen walking behind Mr Baudoin and using his mobile phone to take photos of the watch he had on his wrist,” he said.

A grey moped driven by Belckacem then arrived at the scene, and an unidentified man snatched the watch from his wrist.

“The passenger grabbed hold of Mr Baudoin's right wrist and pulled it clean off his wrist.”

Mr Baudoin said in an impact statement read to the court: “This experience has made me feel extremely unlucky. I don't feel differently about London, but I will have to be a lot more careful going forward.

“The way I feel about the people who did this? I have a lot of resentment.”

In another incident, James Dreyfous was robbed on 23 April after he left Bonds gastropub in Mayfair with three women. A moped, ridden by Belckacem, pulled up and his watch, also worth £65,000, was taken by an unidentified man riding pillion.

Tourist Weiyu Wang was shopping with his wife and daughter in Bond Street on 14 May when he was robbed of his £100,000 watch.

Mohammed Amir, 33, followed Wang, taking photos of his watch, before Nassim Naele, 30, pushed Mr Wang's wife.

Mr Trigg said: “While Mr Wang was trying to help his wife, Mr Naele took the opportunity of that distraction to grab hold of his left wrist and pulled the Patek Philippe hard enough to break the bracelet to get it off his hand.”

Mr Wang said him and his family “are still shocked to this day” by the incident.

“We couldn't understand how we could be robbed during the day in such a nice area of London,” he told the court in a victim statement.

“Our daughter still studies in London, and we can't help but worry for her safety every day since this horrible incident happened to us. We can't have any interest or confidence in visiting the UK.

“The watch was an anniversary gift and it was very valuable and irreplaceable to me. The robbery was like a nightmare. It made me sleepless for quite a few nights.”

Maria Malysheva was robbed of her watch, worth tens of thousands of pounds, near Canary Wharf station on 28 May.

“Belckacem took her in a bear hug which allowed Zouhri to forcibly take the watch off her wrist,” said Mr Trigg. “CCTV shows that Mr Belckacem threw her to the ground.”

In her victim statement she described how she is “afraid to wear jewellery in London”.

Belckacem, Amir and Naele are Algerian while Zouhri is from Libya, and all are in the UK illegally.

Belckacem, of Kensington, admitted four counts of robbery and two counts of perverting the course of justice. He was convicted of perverting the course of justice after he reported mopeds he drove during the robberies as stolen after they were abandoned.

Naele, of Brent, admitted two counts of robbery, possession of a false identity document and possession of criminal property after £20,000 was found at his home.

Zouhri, of Brent, admitted one count of robbery. Amir, of no fixed address, admitted one count of robbery and one count of assault. Oussama Kanouni, 27, of Brent, admitted five counts of possession of a false identity document.

The gang are due to be sentenced today.

Updated: December 13, 2023, 1:09 PM