The socialite ex-husband of Formula One heiress Petra Ecclestone has gone on trial accused of being part of a £266 million ($333m) money-laundering operation.
James Stunt is one of eight defendants charged with money laundering involving depositing cash into the account of gold dealer Fowler Oldfield.
Prosecutor Nicholas Clarke QC told the court it was “blindingly obvious this was criminal cash” — hundreds of thousands of pounds carried in sports bags and holdalls and paid in on a scale similar to the takings at an English Premier League football club on match day, he said.
Police launched Operation Larkshot to investigate money collected from three sites — Fowler Oldfield's own premises, Mr Stunt’s office in central London and a company called Pure Nines, also in London.
Five accused from Fowler Oldfield — Greg Frankel, Daniel Rawson, Paul Miller, Heidi Buckler and Haroon “Harry” Rashid — all claim the prosecution cannot prove that any of the cash was criminal property.
The other accused — Mr Stunt, Alexander Tulloch and Francesca Sota — say they “don't know whether it was”, Mr Clarke said.
“The prosecution say this is nonsense,” said Mr Clarke, opening the case at Leeds Cloth Hall Court on Tuesday.
“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 jewellery business in Bradford, West Yorkshire.
Prosecutors say the cash was taken to business addresses owned or managed by the defendants between January 2014 and September 2016.
“These defendants then hid its origin by washing it through a company bank account and using the proceeds to buy gold,” Mr Clarke said.
He told jurors the payments 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 exceed collections from busy high street banks," Mr Clarke said. "The payments were getting much bigger in 2016.
“On some days, well over £1m in used notes was being paid into the Fowler Oldfield account.”
Cash allegedly used to buy gold
The account was referred to police, who found that in 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 £266m in cash and unknown deposits were paid into the Fowler Oldfield bank account.
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 the precious metal.
And £46m was transferred into an account in the name of James Stunt's company, Stunt & Co Ltd, the court was told.
Mr Clarke said security camera footage appeared to show that in August and September 2016, couriers from all over the UK attended Fowler Oldfield with heavy bags full of cash.
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.
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.”
Ms Buckler, 45, Mr Frankel, 44, Mr Miller, 45, Mr Rashid, 51, Mr Rawson, 45, Ms Sota, 34, Mr Stunt, 40 and mr Tulloch, 41, all deny money laundering. Mr Stunt and Ms Sota also deny forgery.
Mr Stunt married Ms Ecclestone, daughter of F1 tycoon Bernie Ecclestone, in Italy in 2011. They had three children together but divorced in 2017.