Marriage breakdown may explain money-laundering involvement, Stunt trial told

·4-min read

Socialite James Stunt may have got involved in a multimillion-pound money-laundering operation because the breakdown of his marriage to heiress Petra Ecclestone meant the “river of money” from her family was “running dry”, prosecutors have told a jury.

Stunt is one of eight defendants on trial over an alleged network which a court has heard saw £266 million deposited in the bank account of Bradford gold dealer Fowler Oldfield over two years.

Prosecutor Nicholas Clarke QC told a jury on Thursday that Stunt was married to the daughter of Formula 1 mogul Bernie Ecclestone and enjoyed “an extravagant lifestyle”.

But he said Stunt’s “personal finances are shrouded in mystery”.

Mr Clarke said that, at the time of the events being considered by the jury, Stunt was backed by his father-in-law’s wealth and had access to his wife’s money.

He told the jury about some of Stunt’s outgoings, which included more than £340,000 to the charity Unicef and payments of more than £800,000 to the Lamborghini sports car company.

“There are also high-value art purchases from galleries and auction houses,” the prosecutor said.

He added: “They also had joint accounts that, effectively, had unlimited resources.”

Mr Clarke said: “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 James 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 told the jury: “The documents supplied by his lawyers 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.”

An image taken from video showing James Stunt’s late sibling Lee Stunt and other company staff counting allegedly laundered money in his brother’s office
James Stunt’s late sibling Lee Stunt, pictured right, seated, and other company staff counting allegedly laundered money in his brother’s office (CPS/PA)

But he said information provided by Stunt about his significant wealth was not reflected in his tax returns.

The prosecutor said Stunt’s total taxable income declared for the tax year ending April 2015 was just £444. And he said the return for the year to 2016 showed only £10,000 taxable income.

“These were the very years when he and his staff were involved in banking millions of pounds of cash,” Mr Clarke said.

The prosecutor said that Stunt’s lack of provable personal wealth and capital was demonstrated by the fact he had to go to his father-in-law, Bernie Ecclestone, for a loan guarantee.

“If Stunt were the billionaire that he claims, then there would be no need for the outside guarantee at all,” he told the jury.

Mr Clarke said Stunt was the “owner, sole director and controlling mind” of Stunt & Co Limited.

The prosecutor said that, of £266 million cash and unknown deposits transferred through the bank account of Fowler Oldfield, £46.7 million was paid into the bank accounts of James Stunt and of Stunt & Co.

James Stunt
The prosecution said Stunt’s personal finances were ‘shrouded in mystery’ (Peter Byrne/PA)

Prosecutors claim the “criminal cash” was brought into business addresses owned or managed by Stunt and his co-defendants between January 2014 and September 2016.

Leeds Cloth Hall Court previously heard that hundreds of thousands of pounds at a time was brought in carrier bags and holdalls to Fowler Oldfield in Bradford, West Yorkshire.

Mr Clarke said the defendants hid the origin of the money by washing it through a company bank account and using the proceeds to buy gold.

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.

Stunt and the defendants from his company – Tulloch and Sota – said they “don’t know whether it was”, the court has heard.

But prosecutors said it was “blindingly obvious this was criminal cash” and each of the defendants “must at the very least have suspected that the source of the money was criminal in origin”.

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.