Socialite James Stunt ‘refused to read emails’ and was a ‘mere figurehead’ at the firm accused of being involved in a £266m money laundering scam, a court heard today.
Leeds Crown Court later heard how, despite this, it was ‘inconceivable’ that Mr Stunt, 40, was unaware his staff had counted £28million in cash in his Stunt & Co office.
The socialite spent ‘astonishing’ sums while married to Petra Ecclestone including more than £800,000 on Lamborghinis and turned to a criminal enterprise when the ‘river of money was running dry’ with the break-up of their marriage, the court heard.
Prosecutor Nicholas Clarke, QC, told the court Stunt’s ‘own personal finances are shrouded in mystery.’
‘He [Stunt] refuses to have email and does not write letters or read things’, he alleged.
‘He delegates to others and asks for salient facts. On very rare occasions, Petra would receive emails on his behalf. He said he prefers text and phone.’
It comes as ex-F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone was asked by his then son-in-law James Stunt to put up a $10million guarantee for a a gold bullion business ‘that made no commercial sense’ after he started running out of money when his marriage to Petra collapsed, a court has heard.
The bombshell claim emerged during Stunt’s £266million money laundering trial where he is in the dock at Leeds Cloth Hall Court with eight others.
Stunt’s lack of genuine personal wealth meant he got his billionaire father-in-law Bernie Ecclestone to provide a $10m guarantee to lease gold from a bank for a ‘vanity project’ gold bar production scheme.
1kg silver bars were even covered with gilt to make them appear to be gold, which is 50 times more valuable, it is alleged.
Mr Clarke told the jury that the breakdown of Stunt’s marriage to Petra Ecclestone may have been the reason for his foray into the criminal underworld.
He said that ‘the fact that the river of money from the Ecclestone sources may have been running dry’ meant the ‘financial future for James Stunt may have appeared less abundant than it had been.’
Speaking earlier this week the prosecutor said: ‘This case is about money laundering. A lot of money. Money laundering is the process used to convert the proceeds of crime, such as street cash from drug deals or cash that hasn’t gone through the books of a business so to avoid paying tax on it, into assets that appear to have a legitimate origin so they can be used.’
James Stunt with Petra Ecclestone and her father Bernie Ecclestone in Mayfair in 2010. The jury heard that Stunt asked his ex-father-in-law for a $10m guarantee
The former husband of Formula One heiress Petra Ecclestone (pictured today) is one of eight defendants on trial over an alleged network which the court heard saw millions of pounds deposited in the bank account of Bradford gold dealer Fowler Oldfield over two years.
James Stunt’s late sibling Lee Stunt (pictured right, seated) is one of the Stunt company staff counting allegedly laundered money in his brother’s office in an image sent on WhatsApp and shown to the jury
Court sees moment bag man arrives with £200K cash to ‘counting office’ then carefully wipe his fingerprints off all surfaces… despite his every move caught on CCTV
CCTV shown to the jury at James Stunt’s trial showed a courier using his hat and a wrist to avoid putting his fingerprints on a bin liner of cash (left) as he lifted it and put it in a holdall
A courier at the heart of James Stunt’s £266million money laundering enterprise used his hat as a glove, gripped notes with his knuckles and stashed a secret ‘code word’ in his sock to avoid being linked to ‘criminal behaviour’, a court heard.
The jury at the socialite’s trial was shown the CCTV video of the suspect who delivered £200,000 in notes to the Fowler Oldfield ‘counting room’ in Bradford as the prosecution detailed its case against eight people in the dock.
Prosecutor Nicholas Clarke QC told the jury that the footage of a man handling cash was taken long before the pandemic, so there was only one reason to wipe down surfaces. He said: ‘This was not legitimate business. This was criminal behaviour. A criminal delivering the proceeds of crime and well aware of forensic traces he might leave’.
James Stunt, the former husband of heiress Petra Ecclestone, is alleged to have been at the heart of the money laundering scheme to turn criminal cash into gold.
Newly released footage showed a particularly careful courier is shown covering up any forensic evidence of his presence at every stage. The unidentified man is shown arriving at the Bradford office on August 19, 2016, carrying a holdall stuffed with cash.
He handles parcels using the heels of his hands or his closed knuckles, so as not to leave fingerprints, and used his cloth cap as a makeshift glove. He then wipes down the packaging with his cloth cap, and wipes down every surface he has touched, with the cap, his sleeves or a tissue.
The courier was given what the prosecution claimed was a code word used in the alleged money-laundering operation, on a scrap of paper and tore the paper into small pieces and stuffed them into his sock. A little later, he went to the toilet, but again wiped down every surface, including the bolt lock on the cubicle.
Despite Stunt’s claims to be a billionaire in his own right, the 40-year-old personal finances are ‘shrouded in mystery’ suggested Mr Clarke QC, as Stunt is in the dock with eight the defendants.
Mr Clarke pointed out glaring discrepancies between official tax and business records detailing Stunt’s income, but said he had access to ‘unlimited resources’ when he was married to F1 heiress Petra Ecclestone, through their joint account.
But when Stunt wanted to set up his own ‘branded gold bar’ investment business, he had to turn to his billionaire father-in-law to stand as guarantor.
Mr Clarke said: ‘If Stunt were the billionaire that he claims then there would be no need for the outside guarantee at all. It is only the impecunious that need such a third-party financial crutch to support them.’
He added: ‘Backed by his father-in-law’s wealth, Stunt was able to establish business support, and through his marriage he had access to his wife’s money’.
Mr Clarke said Stunt told officers he had no role at the company bearing his name and just ‘wanted to know what was happening to my money as all I seemed to do was haemorrhaging it.’
Mr Clarke added: ‘He claimed not to know about problems identified by the auditor, Grant Thornton, saying “No reason why I would be involved in this process and I was not”. He claimed their report was incompetent and that they were in dispute over the invoice.’
He said he was in the USA for the majority of the time that Stunt & Co operated and claimed he was in touch infrequently with his brother and co-defendant Alex Tulloch, who he described as a childhood friend from a private banking background.
Mr Clarke added: ‘Tulloch was in charge of anti-money laundering matters, which was outside his [Stunt’s] remit. Stunt said that day to day running of the business was not his responsibility. Through his friendship with Tulloch, Stunt said he relied upon the experience he believed he had.’
Stunt claimed to have no idea of the mechanics of money movements in and out of the accounts and he had no responsibility for daily cash counting, Mr Clarke said.
According to Stunt’s statement: ‘During the police interview I learned for the first time just how much money had been passing through Leconfield House [his firm’s Curzon Street, Mayfair office, once the HQ of MI5.]’
But Mr Clarke said that Stunt & Co paid some or all of its profits directly to him via a director’s loan account. The amounts varied between £50,000 and £250,000 a month.
‘He acknowledged that he often chased payments via text and calls to Tulloch and his brother. He was the second biggest beneficiary of Fowler Oldfield and certainly the highest payments to an individual.
‘Yet, he was not personally a party to any agreement with Fowler Oldfield and there is no legitimate reason given for any of the payments.
‘His chasing of all these transfers tends to suggest that he was under financial pressure and struggling for available funds. Otherwise it would not have been necessary to keep such a close eye on it.
‘It may well be that his lifestyle was starting to run ahead of his ability to make immediate payments for goods and services.’
Stunt is one of eight defendants accused of money laundering at Leeds Cloth Hall Court by being involved in depositing ‘criminal cash’ in the account of Bradford gold dealer Fowler Oldfield.
Prosecutors say the cash was brought into business addresses owned or managed by the defendants between January 2014 and September 2016. The jury heard that Stunt spent ‘astonishing’ sums during his marriage to Petra Ecclestone, including more than £800,000 on Lamborghinis.
Mr Clarke said: ‘There is evidence of transfers of large amounts from her accounts into his. They also had joint accounts that, effectively, had unlimited resources.
‘He has been able to write cheques on and arrange transfers from his personal account for truly astonishing sums of money. His charitable payments include a £10,000 donation to the Princes Trust in June 2014, £25,000 to The Great Steward of Scotland Dumfries House Trust (where part of his art collection was on loan) in August 2015 and another £25,000 in December of the same year.
‘Unicef received £40,000 in October 2015 and then £301,000 in the following month. He paid £316,000 to Lamborghini in July 2015, another €260,000 [EUROS] in the November and then £359,000 in January 2016.
‘There are also high value art purchases from galleries and auction houses.’
Stunt, 40, is one of eight defendants charged with money laundering cash that was taken to premises (pictured) owned by Bradford gold dealer Fowler Oldfield between January 2014 and September 2016
James Stunt with his girlfriend Helena Robinson outside Leeds Cloth Hall Court this morning
At one point the courier tore up a note on a yellow piece of paper and stashed it in his sock
CCTV shown to the jury shows cash being counted and then packaged up during an alleged £266million money-laundering operation
This graphic shows how prosecutors claim the alleged money laundering took place
Stunt, his late brother Lee and colleague Alex Tulloch are all mentioned in proceedings
Jurors were shown messages between Stunt’s employees and co-defendants Alex Tulloch (left) at Fowler Oldfield. Right, Defendant Heidi Buckler
Mr Clarke added that Stunt has enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle, although his own personal finances are ‘shrouded in mystery’.
‘Bank account opening records and applications for finance suggest that he has extraordinarily high wealth and income.
‘On closer examination, it has been impossible to verify any of the details set out on the applications and forms. When questions have been asked he could not answer them.’
Mr Clarke added: ‘James Stunt is no longer married to Petra Ecclestone and given the breakdown in his marriage and the fact that the river of money from the Ecclestone sources may have been running dry, the financial future for Stunt may have appeared to him less abundant than it had been.
‘This might be an explanation as to why he got involved in a process that has been demonstrably proven to have involved the laundering of millions of pounds of cash.’
Mr Clarke said that when initially questioned about his involvement in the money laundering network, he made no reply, but later his lawyers submitted a lengthy document divided into chapters.
The prosecutor told the court: ‘The documents… seek to portray him as a man of exceedingly high wealth with virtually unlimited income and who could have had no possible motive to launder money.
‘It is claimed that he earns a very significant income and makes enormous capital gains from his investments.
‘He is presented as a successful entrepreneur who spots a business opportunity, sets up the business and financing, but then leaves all the detail to others who are left with the responsibility of making it happen without close oversight from him.
‘He claims that if he had the slightest suspicion that anything illegal was being done in relation to his venture with Fowler Oldfield then he would have walked away.’
But official records from HMRC and Companies House told a different story, the jury heard.
He said the tax records exposed gaps in the history and apparent failures to account for benefits in kind, drawings on director’s loan accounts, capital gains and show underreporting of income from companies and rental payments.
His dividend income was not, said Mr Clarke, what ‘one might expect for a businessman claiming to be as successful as he does.’
He added: ‘He declared dividends of approximately £55,000 in 2011-12, £28,000 in 2012-13, £9,000 in 2013-14, and £147 in 2014-15 with £297 taxable bank interest. i.e. his total taxable income declared for the tax year ending April 2015 was —- £444. The return for the year to 2016 showed only £10,000 taxable income for the year. These were the very years when he and his staff were involved in banking millions of pounds of cash.’
The Directors Loan Account with Stunt and Co was overdrawn in 2015 but no benefit in kind has been referred to in any tax return, said Mr Clarke.
He added: ‘In 2015/2016 and 2016/2017 £543,385.67 was paid by Fowler Oldfield directly to Stunt, again this is not reflected in any declarations made by Stunt to HMRC. James STUNT, as the Director, signed and submitted accounts to Companies House, in respect of Stunt & Co, declaring that during the period of the 24th November 2014 to the 30th March 2016, Stunt & Co recorded their turnover as being £43,538,406, resulting in a loss of some £842,255, with no salaries or wages being paid to anyone, including James Stunt, with Stunt & Co recording assets as being worth £4,944,784, having sold assets to the value of £373,169. The assets were sold to James Stunt.’
Stunt, 40, the socialite and former husband of heiress Petra Ecclestone, is one of eight defendants charged with money laundering involving depositing cash in the account of Bradford gold dealer Fowler Oldfield.
Prosecutors say the cash was brought into business addresses owned or managed by the defendants between January 2014 and September 2016.
Fowler Oldfield’s accountant, Australian national Heidi Buckler, 45, knew of the large amounts of cash being delivered to their premises, as well as Stunt’s firm, Stunt & Co in London, and also kept track of gold being exported to Dubai, the prosecution alleged.
Prosecutor Nicholas Clarke QC told Leeds Cloth Hall Court that Buckler had changed invoices relating to the purchase of gold by one man Arjun Babber.
Mr Babber emailed Ms Buckler saying: ‘…it shows 1 bar for both invoices can we make the invoices for a reasonable amount please’.
Mr Clarke said Buckler replied: ‘Sorry, no problems. I realised as soon as I had sent that I had forgotten to change the qty.’
Five defendants from Fowler Oldfield – Greg Frankel, Daniel Rawson, Paul Miller (pictured), Heidi Buckler and Haroon ‘Harry’ Rashid – all say the prosecution cannot prove that any of the cash was criminal property
Wads of suspicious Scottish cash (left) with an ‘unusual smell’ were seized by police. This was then used to buy gold from two Birmingham suppliers, the court heard
She sent a further email asking: ‘Does it matter if there are Gold bars and some is Grain? So I can get the weight to align with the cost?’
Mr Clarke said that Buckler subsequently altered two invoices, but he added: ‘There was no explanation why one 1kg gold bar was valued at £30,000 on one invoice and the same quantity valued at £50,000 on another. These figures were all just made up to provide cover invoices that were designed to hide what was truly occurring.’
Mr Clarke told the court that text messages recovered from Heidi Buckler’s phone showed that she and fellow defendant and Fowler Oldfield director Daniel Rawson were sceptical about James Stunt’s means.
On November 29, 2015, he drew her attention to a Daily Mail article which questioned the source of Stunt’s wealth.
On June 24, 2016, Rawson texted her asking if she had seen Stunt’s office in Mayfair, adding she wouldn’t have been impressed since she knew ‘it’s all bulls***’.
The sheer scale of the amounts of cash being delivered to Fowler Oldfield was illustrated by records relating to another of the defendants, Haroon Rashid, the court heard.
Rashid, 51, was described as a director of Rashid Jewellers Ltd, a company listed at his Bradford home address, but which had no shop, workshop, or commercial premises, said Mr Clarke.
Mr Clarke said CCTV footage captured Rashid making a variety of cash deliveries in carrier bags, shopping bags, a rucksack and a padlocked holdall.
In one five-hour period on September 7, 2016, he delivered a total of almost £1.2m (£1,195,015) at the Fowler Oldfield office, said the prosecutor.
Five defendants from Fowler Oldfield – Greg Frankel, Daniel Rawson, Paul Miller, Heidi Buckler and Haroon ‘Harry’ Rashid – all say the prosecution cannot prove that any of the cash was criminal property.
The other defendants – Stunt, Alexander Tulloch and Francesca Sota – say they ‘don’t know whether it was’, Mr Clarke has said.
Buckler, 45, Frankel, 44, Miller, 45, Rashid, 51, Rawson, 45, Sota, 34, Stunt, 40 and Tulloch, 41, all deny money laundering. Stunt and Sota also deny forgery.
Stunt married Ms Ecclestone, daughter of F1 tycoon Bernie Ecclestone, in Italy in 2011. They had three children together but divorced in 2017.
The former husband of Formula One heiress Petra Ecclestone is one of eight defendants on trial over an alleged money laundering network
During one month in 2016 an average of £1.7million was being paid into the Fowler Oldfield account every day. Pictured: A bag stuffed full of cash that was found by cops
Yesterday’s proceedings were paused when the jury were each given 1kg silver bars which had been covered with gilt to make them appear to be gold, which is 50 times more valuable.
The judge and jury were also handed a genuine 1kg silver bar for comparison as two ushers carried the precious metal into the court on plastic trays.
The fake gold bars were among 145 found in the safe of London company Pure 9s, said to be implicated in the money-laundering scheme, when police raided the premises. One genuine gold bar was also discovered.
Mr Clarke said: ‘The disguising of these bars is a remarkable feature of this case. To the untrained eye such gold plated bars might pass muster and so get through any cursory examination undetected for the relatively low value bars they are. ‘
He added that an ‘anti-money laundering guide’ bearing Greg Frankel’s fingerprints was also found in the safe.
Mr Clarke said that Stunt was owner, sole director and controlling mind of Stunt & Co Limited.
‘He advertised himself as the Chairman and CEO of the business although others carried out his instructions and were given day to day management responsibilities.’ He said the prosecution case was: That he knew what was happening at his offices, that he was aware of the amount of cash being delivered, both there and at other sites.
The court heard Fowler Oldfield was a small family jewellery company that used to buy, in relatively modest amounts, scrap gold from the jewellery trade which would then be melted down or refined into larger amounts
Nicholas Clarke QC said it was ‘blindingly obvious this was criminal cash’ being washed through a company account in a classic money laundering scheme to make the funds appear legitimate
Police found cash and bags that were being held inside the safe within the office of Fowler Oldfield’s premises
‘He knew that cash was being counted by his Personal Assistant, Francesca Sota, and security staff in a separate room and he actively encouraged and directed them to cooperate in the receipt, counting and onward transmission of very significant amounts of cash.’
He said the company Stunt & Co Limited was incorporated on 24th November 2014, but has not registered as an employer.
Between October 29 2015 and August 2, 2016, it was claimed that just over £28m in cash was collected at Stunt & Co’s Mayfair office, and was credited to the Fowler Oldfield bank account.
Mr Clarke added: ‘The £266 million cash and unknown deposits paid into and transferred through the bank account of Fowler Oldfield have been traced through by way of transfers to bank accounts held by a number of other companies, including £46.7 million that was paid into the bank accounts of James Stunt and of Stunt & Co.’
He added: ‘Given the amounts involved and the lack of any scrutiny of the sources of the cash, it is the Crown’s case that anyone involved in that process must have known or at the very least suspected that it was criminal in origin.
‘The circumstances have all the hallmarks of a classic money laundering operation. It would undoubtedly have taken up a significant amount of time and resources and occupied a number of members of staff to accomplish the task of counting, recording and transhipping the volume of cash being received.
‘It has been suggested by the defence that the facility was provided as agents for Fowler Oldfield without question or suspicion which we suggest is ridiculous and can be rejected by you.’