Money-laundering accused James Stunt took ‘very hands-on approach’, court told

Jurors were shown messages between Mr Stunt's employees and his co-accused

James Stunt is one of eight people facing trial over alleged money laundering at Leeds Crown Court. PA

Socialite James Stunt took “a very hands-on approach” as his company became involved in a “sophisticated” money-laundering operation, prosecutors have claimed.

The former husband of heiress Petra Ecclestone is one of eight people on trial over an alleged network which a court in Leeds heard deposited £266 million in the bank account of Bradford gold dealer Fowler Oldfield over a two-year period.

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

The Leeds 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.

Jurors were told the alleged money laundering then “went national”, as one of Fowler Oldfield's directors Greg Frankel became a vice president of Stunt & Co, and Mr Stunt's premises in London also started receiving cash.

James Stunt arrives at Leeds Crown Court to appear on money-laundering charges. PA

Prosecutor Nicholas Clarke QC said the accused hid the origin of the money by washing it through a company bank account and using the proceeds to buy gold.

On Wednesday jurors were shown messages between staff at Fowler Oldfield and Mr Stunt's employees and co-accused Alex Tulloch and Francesca Sota.

The court heard one message from Mr Tulloch in November 2015 said: “James not happy though … James wants to know what his profit is for this week. Concerned about profitability etc.”

The court was told another message from Mr Tulloch in April 2016, when Mr Stunt was living out of the country, said: “Ensure that I get updated at least daily on £ in London and Bradford. Gold sold: Lock ins (Scotia), Cookson's, Dubai. Refining: Any material coming out of the refinery.”

Mr Clarke said the messages showed Mr Stunt was “taking a very hands-on approach, even though he was a very long way away at the time”.

He said Mr Stunt was the owner and director of Stunt & Co but “delegated much of the responsibility to others”. He told the court: “He was not involved in the day-to-day management of the buying and selling of gold and was not included in most of the correspondence via electronic means.

“However, emails between others demonstrate that he was very much aware of and authorised what was going on.”

Five accused from Fowler Oldfield — Mr 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.

Mr Stunt and the accused from his company — Mr Tulloch and Ms Sota — say they “don't know whether it was”, the court has heard.

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

Jurors were told West Yorkshire Police launched Operation Larkshot to investigate large amounts of cash being credited to the bank account of Fowler Oldfield and 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”.

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

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.

The trial continues.

Updated: May 04, 2022, 9:57 PM