Socialite James Stunt cleared of forgery but faces retrial on money-laundering charge

Former husband of heiress Petra Ecclestone was one of eight defendants on trial for alleged links to a criminal network

James Stunt is alleged to have been involved with an operation in which £266 million was deposited in the bank account of a gold dealer. PA
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Socialite James Stunt has been cleared of forgery but a jury in his long-running trial failed to reach a verdict on a money-laundering charge.

Mr Stunt, 40, the former husband of heiress Petra Ecclestone, was one of eight defendants on trial in Leeds in relation to an alleged criminal network that prosecutors said was involved in depositing £266 million in the bank account of Bradford gold dealer Fowler Oldfield between 2014 and 2016.

Four of the defendants ― Paul Miller, 45; Heidi Buckler, 45; Alexander Tulloch, 41; and Francesca Sota, 34 ― were cleared of money laundering at Leeds Crown Court on Wednesday.

Ms Sota was also cleared of forgery.

But the jury of seven men and four women were unable to reach verdicts on the money-laundering charge in the case of four other defendants ― Mr Stunt; Greg Frankel, 44; Haroon Rashid, 51; and Daniel Rawson, 45 ― after deliberating for more than six days.

The jury was discharged by Judge Andrew Stubbs KC.

Nicholas Clarke KC, prosecuting, told the court there will be a retrial for the four defendants on the money-laundering charge.

Prosecutors had said the eight defendants were part of a scheme to turn the proceeds of crime into untraceable gold.

Jurors heard that, between 2014 and 2016, cash was brought from all over the country to Fowler Oldfield and Mr Stunt’s business premises in London.

It was alleged the defendants then hid its origin by washing it through a company bank account and using the proceeds to buy gold, which was shipped to Dubai.

Mr Stunt entered a business partnership with Fowler Oldfield’s directors, Mr Frankel and Mr Rawson, after being introduced to them at the Sheffield Assay Office, where he was building a refinery as part of his business plan to manufacture branded gold bars.

Prosecutors claimed this was when Mr Stunt got involved in the money-laundering scheme, and cash started being counted at his London offices as well as Fowler Oldfield’s West Yorkshire premises.

Mr Stunt and his personal assistant, Ms Sota, were charged with forgery after investigators found a message in which he asked her to forge his signature so he could draw £320,000 from one of his bank accounts.

The businessman told jurors he thought Ms Sota had permission to stamp his signature with his permission.

Updated: December 14, 2022, 5:18 PM