Socialite James Stunt spent ‘astonishing’ sums while married to Petra Ecclestone including more than £800,000 on Lamborghinis and turned to a £266million laundering scheme when the ‘river of money was running dry’ with the break-up of their marriage, a court heard.
Despite his claims to be a billionaire in his own right, 40-year-old Stunt’s personal finances are ‘shrouded in mystery’ suggested prosecutor Nicholas Clarke QC as Stunt stood trial for money laundering charges.
Mr Clarke pointed out glaring discrepancies between official tax and business records detailing Stunt’s income, but said he had access to ‘unlimited resources’ when he was married to F1 heiress Petra Ecclestone, through their joint account.
But when Stunt wanted to set up his own ‘branded gold bar’ investment business, he had to turn to his billionaire father-in-law to stand as guarantor.
Mr Clarke said: ‘If Stunt were the billionaire that he claims then there would be no need for the outside guarantee at all. It is only the impecunious that need such a third-party financial crutch to support them.’
Stunt is one of eight defendants accused of money laundering at Leeds Cloth Hall Court by being involved in depositing ‘criminal cash’ in the account of Bradford gold dealer Fowler Oldfield.
Prosecutors say the cash was brought into business addresses owned or managed by the defendants between January 2014 and September 2016.
The jury heard that Stunt spent ‘astonishing’ sums during his marriage to Petra Ecclestone, including more than £800,000 on Lamborghinis.
Mr Clarke said: ‘Backed by his father-in-law’s wealth, Stunt was able to establish business support, and through his marriage he had access to his wife’s money.
‘There is evidence of transfers of large amounts from her accounts into his. They also had joint accounts that, effectively, had unlimited resources.
‘He has been able to write cheques on and arrange transfers from his personal account for truly astonishing sums of money. His charitable payments include a £10,000 donation to the Princes Trust in June 2014, £25,000 to The Great Steward of Scotland Dumfries House Trust (where part of his art collection was on loan) in August 2015 and another £25,000 in December of the same year.
‘Unicef received £40,000 in October 2015 and then £301,000 in the following month. He paid £316,000 to Lamborghini in July 2015, another €260,000 [EUROS] in the November and then £359,000 in January 2016.
‘There are also high value art purchases from galleries and auction houses.’
Mr Clarke added that Stunt has enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle, although his own personal finances are ‘shrouded in mystery’.
‘Bank account opening records and applications for finance suggest that he has extraordinarily high wealth and income.
‘On closer examination, it has been impossible to verify any of the details set out on the applications and forms. When questions have been asked he could not answer them.’
Mr Clarke added: ‘James Stunt is no longer married to Petra Ecclestone and given the breakdown in his marriage and the fact that the river of money from the Ecclestone sources may have been running dry, the financial future for Stunt may have appeared to him less abundant than it had been.
‘This might be an explanation as to why he got involved in a process that has been demonstrably proven to have involved the laundering of millions of pounds of cash.’
Mr Clarke said that when initially questioned about his involvement in the money laundering network, he made no reply, but later his lawyers submitted a lengthy document divided into chapters.
The prosecutor told the court: ‘The documents… seek to portray him as a man of exceedingly high wealth with virtually unlimited income and who could have had no possible motive to launder money.
‘It is claimed that he earns a very significant income and makes enormous capital gains from his investments.
‘He is presented as a successful entrepreneur who spots a business opportunity, sets up the business and financing, but then leaves all the detail to others who are left with the responsibility of making it happen without close oversight from him.
‘He claims that if he had the slightest suspicion that anything illegal was being done in relation to his venture with Fowler Oldfield then he would have walked away.’
But official records from HMRC and Companies House told a different story, the jury heard.
He said the tax records exposed gaps in the history and apparent failures to account for benefits in kind, drawings on director’s loan accounts, capital gains and show underreporting of income from companies and rental payments.
His dividend income was not, said Mr Clarke, what ‘one might expect for a businessman claiming to be as successful as he does.’
He added: ‘He declared dividends of approximately £55,000 in 2011-12, £28,000 in 2012-13, £9,000 in 2013-14, and £147 in 2014-15 with £297 taxable bank interest. i.e. his total taxable income declared for the tax year ending April 2015 was —- £444. The return for the year to 2016 showed only £10,000 taxable income for the year. These were the very years when he and his staff were involved in banking millions of pounds of cash.’
The Directors Loan Account with Stunt and Co was overdrawn in 2015 but no benefit in kind has been referred to in any tax return, said Mr Clarke.
James Stunt with his girlfriend Helena Robinson outside Leeds Cloth Hall Court this morning