Socialite bullion dealer James Stunt to stand trial in Britain’s biggest money laundering case

Liquidated gold merchant - which allegedly received £2m-a-day in illicit cash - linked to landmark criminal case against NatWest Bank

2DC04N3 James Stunt, the ex-husband of Formula One heiress Petra Ecclestone arriving at Westminster Magistrates' Court, London, where he is charged with possession of cocaine, criminal damage, assault, harassment and theft.
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Bankrupt gold dealer James Stunt is one of 13 people charged with money laundering linked to a UK jeweller at the heart of an alleged £365 million ($505m) criminal case against one of the country’s biggest banks.

Bradford-based gold merchant Fowler Oldfield is alleged to have received £2m a day in bags of cash as well as allegedly laundering £365m through its NatWest Bank accounts over a five-year period from 2011 to 2016.

The National has learned that 13 defendants will face trial next year in connection with the case following a long-running police operation.

In a separate landmark criminal case linked to the jeweller, the UK's  Financial Services Authority (FCA) has brought criminal charges against Britain’s NatWest Bank, one of the world’s oldest institutions, for allegedly violating money laundering laws over a five-year period.

The former director of Fowler Oldfield, Gregory Frankel, who was a vice-president of Mr Stunt’s firm Stunt & Co, will also stand trial.

Mr Stunt - the former husband of F1 heiress Petra Ecclestone - and Mr Frankel also jointly-owned international gold trading business Fort Bullion, whose offices in Mayfair were raided by the police in 2016.

West Yorkshire Police and the UK's National Crime Agency investigated Fowler Oldfield in 2016 and carried out a number of raids across the country.

The investigation culminated in Mr Stunt, Mr Frankel and 11 other people being charged with money laundering. Both Mr Stunt and Mr Frankel deny the charges.

A 12-week trial is set to take place at Leeds Crown Court next year.

On Tuesday, the FCA announced it was bringing charges against NatWest Bank in connection with the jeweller and a hearing will be held at London’s Westminster Magistrate’s Court in April. The bank is 62 per cent-owned by the UK government.

The FCA said the case, which is its first ever criminal trial against a bank, involves “increasingly large” deposits that were made into the accounts of a UK-incorporated customer between November 2011 and October 2016.

[Natwest] has made significant, multi-year investments in its financial crime systems and controls

The transactions totalled £365m, including £264m of cash deposits, the FCA said.

NatWest said it was notified of the investigation in July 2017 and is co-operating with financial regulators.

“NatWest Group takes extremely seriously its responsibility to seek to prevent money laundering by third parties and accordingly has made significant, multi-year investments in its financial crime systems and controls,” the bank said in a statement.

A first court appearance is scheduled for April 14 at Westminster Magistrate’s Court.

The charges could lead to an unlimited fine, the FCA said.

Fowler Oldfield went into liquidation in 2016 and its assets were seized by the police under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Fort Bullion was dissolved in 2018 and Stunt & Co has been placed into compulsory liquidation.

Mr Stunt and Ms Ecclestone, who have three children together, divorced in 2017.

The socialite was once worth an estimated £3 billion, but his assets were frozen by the High Court in 2018 at the request of the Crown Prosecution Service.

The 42-year-old was declared bankrupt in 2019 and last year his £11m luxury cottage in Belgravia, in central London, was repossessed.