Socialite tells court he became a ‘reclusive pariah’ after assets were frozen

Socialite James Stunt has told a court he became a “reclusive pariah” after his assets were frozen during an investigation into alleged money laundering.

The former son-in-law of F1 tycoon Bernie Ecclestone said he went from “a man once well revered” to being “like a leper without a colony”, telling jurors he was “made bankrupt and homeless during a global pandemic” due to the effects of the court order.

Stunt, 40, is one of eight defendants on trial over an alleged money-laundering operation which jurors have heard saw £266 million deposited in the bank account of Bradford gold dealer Fowler Oldfield from 2014 to 2016.

Leeds Cloth Hall Court heard on Friday that following an investigation into the alleged criminal network, a restraint order imposed by a judge froze Stunt’s bank accounts, with arrangements made for money to be released to him for everyday use.

James Stunt court case
Image taken from video showing Fowler Oldfield in Bradford, where money laundering is alleged to have taken place (PA)

The defendant described the order as “a draconian act which comes in and says someone is guilty before they are tried before a jury of their peers, and just turns off your life”.

Stunt also claimed that before the restraint order, police informed banks “not to deal with him”.

“I had to go to a loan shark effectively, it was very bizarre. I was like a leper without a colony,” he said.

Asked by prosecutor Nicholas Clarke KC about his claims during evidence that the seizure of his assets was “illegal,” Stunt said: “When I say ‘illegal’, yes, OK, that’s semantics – highly unethical, immoral in my opinion.”

Mr Clarke said that rather than being “homeless”, arrangements were made for Stunt to live in a five-storey property in south Kensington which had six bedrooms and a cinema room, and cost £9,995 a month in rent.

Stunt said: “Yes, after three months my father decided to help out his son and it’s humbling.

“I was homeless for three months.”

When Mr Clarke said he had also been allowed to sell some Faberge items, Stunt replied: “I paid half a million pounds for them and I’m getting £25,000 because people can exploit me.”

Mr Clarke told Stunt that by 2016 his assets “diminished to almost nothing” and suggested his involvement with Fowler Oldfield was “an opportunity perhaps to fund your lifestyle independently from Petra Ecclestone”.

Stunt said: “I say that is an outrageous allegation.”

The court was shown a bank document signed by Stunt from July 2017 which said: “The majority of his income, however, is received from his wife Petra Ecclestone.”

Stunt said he “didn’t make that statement”, adding: “I am someone who doesn’t read the small print. There was a lot going on in my life.”

Stunt said Ms Ecclestone had left him at this point, but they had not yet divorced.

Mr Clarke told Stunt that during his evidence he had been “at pains to insist you were paying your way during the marriage” to Petra Ecclestone.

Stunt replied: “I was at pains to say I brought things to the marriage. I don’t really see this sexist attitude you are taking – if I was a lady would you be asking this to me?”

Mr Clarke also asked Stunt about his assertion in evidence that he “had never claimed to be a billionaire”.

Stunt said: “Do I sometimes allow people to think it and not correct them, a bit like Donald Trump – but I’m nothing like him politically.”

Prosecutors say the alleged money-laundering scheme saw “criminal cash” brought from all over the country to Fowler Oldfield’s premises in West Yorkshire, before the scheme “went national” and Stunt’s offices in London also started receiving money.

It is claimed the defendants hid the origin of the money by moving it through a company bank account and using the proceeds to buy gold.

Heidi Buckler, 45, Greg Frankel, 44, Paul Miller, 45, Haroon Rashid, 51, Daniel Rawson, 45, Francesca Sota, 34, Stunt and Tulloch all deny money laundering. Stunt and Sota also deny forgery.

The trial continues.