James Stunt accused of being part of a £ 266m money-laundering operation

James Stunt, the socialite and former husband of Heiress Petra Ecclestone, today went on trial accused of being part of a £ 266million money-laundering operation.

Stunt, 40, is one of eight defenders charged with money laundering cash that was taken to premises owned by Bradford gold dealer Fowler Oldfield between January 2014 and September 2016.

This money – carried in sports bags, carrier bags and holdalls – was then used to buy gold from two Birmingham suppliers, the court heard.

Nicholas Clarke QC said it was ‘blindingly obvious this was criminal cash’ being laundered through a company account in a classic money laundering scheme to make the funds appear legitimate.

He added: ‘It was a most roundabout and inefficient way of doing business. The cash could have simply been taken to a bank if it was legitimate, but it had to be paid through Fowler Oldfield to hide its true origins and give it a veneer of respectability. ‘

Stunt was accompanied at court today by girlfriend Helena Robinson, 26, with whom he has been for the past two years. Stunt married Ms Ecclestone, daughter of F1 tycoon Bernie Ecclestone, in Italy in 2011. They had three children together but divorced in 2017.

Five defenders 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 three defenders – Stunt, Alexander Tulloch and Francesca Sota – say they ‘don’t know if it was’, Mr Clarke said.

James Stunt is pictured standing next to his girlfriend Helena Robinson outside Leeds Cloth Hall Court today

James Stunt is pictured standing next to his girlfriend Helena Robinson outside Leeds Cloth Hall Court today

James Stunt with his girlfriend Helena Robinson outside Leeds Cloth Hall Court today

James Stunt with his girlfriend Helena Robinson outside Leeds Cloth Hall Court today

Prosecutor Mr Clarke told jurors: ‘The prosecution says this is nonsense… Each of them must at the very least have suspected that the source of the money was criminal in origin – it could not have come from a legitimate source and no legitimate source has ever been identified for it. ‘

The prosecution say cash from ‘a lot of criminal activity’ was collected together and taken to Fowler Oldfield in Bradford, sometimes via businesses in London. Mr Clarke said: ‘These defenders then hid its origin by washing it through a company bank account and using the proceeds to buy gold.’

Jurors were told West Yorkshire Police launched Operation Larkshot – an investigation into large amounts of cash being credited to the bank account of Fowler Oldfield collected from three sites – Fowler Oldfield’s own premises, the offices of James Stunt in central London and a new company called Pure Nines in Hatton Garden.

Mr Clarke said substantial amounts of cash were being paid into a bank account of Fowler Oldfield Limited from 2014. He told jurors they aroused the suspicions of bank staff because ‘they were of such an amount, on a daily basis, as may come from a Premier League football stadium on a match day or similar size venue or event ‘.

‘They were in volumes that exceeded collections from busy high street banks. The payments were getting much bigger in 2016. On some days, well over a million pounds in used notes was being paid into the Fowler Oldfield account, ‘Mr Clarke said.

The account was referred to police, who found that between August and September 2016 daily cash deposits ranged between £ 787,540 and £ 2,424,380, with an average of £ 1,706,823, jurors heard.

The wider investigation discovered that from January 1 2014 until September 16 2016, more than £ 266million in cash and unknown deposits were paid into the Fowler Oldfield bank account.

James Stunt with his girlfriend Helena Robinson outside Leeds Cloth Hall Court today

James Stunt with his girlfriend Helena Robinson outside Leeds Cloth Hall Court today

Stunt is charged with money laundering involving depositing cash in the account of Bradford gold dealer Fowler Oldfield (file picture)

Stunt is charged with money laundering involving depositing cash in the account of Bradford gold dealer Fowler Oldfield (file picture)

The court heard that after the cash had credited the bank account it was transferred mainly to two Birmingham gold suppliers, Cookson Precious Metals Limited and Metalor Technologies (UK) Limited to buy gold.

Some £ 46million was also transferred into an account in the name of James Stunt’s company, Stunt & Co Ltd.

Mr Clarke said CCTV footage shows that during August and September 2016, couriers from all over the UK attended Fowler Oldfield with heavy bags of cash.

In one case it was inside two toy boxes wrapped in paper disguised as a birthday present.

The court heard Fowler Oldfield was a small family jewelery company that used to buy, in relatively modest amounts, scrap gold from the jewelery trade which would then be melted down or refined into larger amounts.

But Mr Clarke said: ‘There was a dramatic transformation as Fowler Oldfield moved from that legitimate trade to becoming a vehicle for very substantial money laundering of criminal cash.

‘From the end of 2013, the bank account of Fowler Oldfield began to receive huge sums in cash deposits.’

The significant and marked change in the business of Fowler Oldfield from buyer of scrap gold involving paying out cash to very substantial receiver of cash, the escalation in the turnover of the business, the sheer value of cash involved, the number of Scottish notes among the cash received and the circumstances of its receipt and being counted, are all clear indications that the cash that was being delivered by the couriers had its origins in crime.

James Stunt pictured with his then-wife Petra Ecclestone at the 2012 Monaco Grand Prix

James Stunt pictured with his then-wife Petra Ecclestone at the 2012 Monaco Grand Prix

James Stunt with Petra Ecclestone and her father Bernie, left of Bernie, with her beau James Stunt and Tamara Ecclestone (R) with right, with her partner Omar Khyami during his 80th Birthday dinner at Scotts Restaurant in Mount Street Mayfair.Bernie Ecclestone's 80th Birthday dinner at Scotts Restaurant in Mount Mayfair

James Stunt with Petra Ecclestone and her father Bernie Ecclestone in Mayfair in 2010

‘It is obvious from the totality of the evidence, and especially the CCTV recordings, that this was a sophisticated clandestine operation to receive criminal cash in such a way that Fowler Oldfield could then persuade NatWest that it was just part of their ordinary business operations. ‘

Mr Clarke said the money laundering then ‘went national’ as one of Fowler Oldfield’s directors, Greg Frankel, became a Vice President of Stunt & Co.

‘New premises in the south became centers of operation for receiving cash,’ he told the court.

‘Stunt’s offices are higher up in a tower block and it has become more difficult to manage the sheer volume of bags of cash that had to be paid into the Fowler Oldfield account, and there were issues over the security of the collections.

‘They then got access to a new company with no history at all, Pure Nines. which could also help in the trade side of legitimizing the cash. ‘

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.

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