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James Stunt today denied being ‘in business with colourful characters’ as a court heard gold bars branded with his name were a ‘cover story’ for money laundering. 

The prosecution claim the cash behind the gold business came from ‘criminals’, but Stunt denied knowingly having business dealings with anyone with a criminal background.

‘I have never been in business with any colourful characters,’ he told Leeds Cloth Hall Court.

Stunt said the business model was for Fowler Oldfield, the Bradford-based gold dealer he was in a ‘joint venture’ with, to collect scrap gold from different jewellers.

That gold would be refined at his Sheffield refinery and turned into gold bars branded with the Stunt name.

He made money available for Fowler Oldfield to buy the scrap gold, the court heard. Stunt said that his company made ‘just shy’ of 1,000 gold bars.

But prosecutor Nicholas Clarke KC told Stunt that the case was ‘not about gold being made into bars’ and that was ‘just a cover story.’

James Stunt arrives at Leeds Cloth Hall Court with his girlfriend, Helena Robinson, this morning

James Stunt arrives at Leeds Cloth Hall Court with his girlfriend, Helena Robinson, this morning

The KC said that in 2015 and 2016, although some ‘small amounts of scrap’ was still coming in, millions of pounds of cash was being paid in via his company’s office.

Stunt said that his office was just being used as a ‘cash collection agency.’

Mr Clarke suggested that by this time Fowler Oldfield was no longer getting cash for gold bars but was now getting cash and buying gold grain and bars from the Bank of Nova Scotia to make into Stunt gold bars.

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Stunt replied: ‘Yes, but I didn’t know that at the time.’

Asked if any of the cash was from criminal conduct, Stunt said: ‘It’s not a matter for me to speculate on. I’m trying to be a humble honest man and tell you I don’t know.’

Commenting on his gold refinery business, he added: ‘This was no cover story. This was an utterly transparent and legitimate gold bullion business bearing my name.’

Asked about hundreds of thousands of pounds in cash being paid in to Fowler Oldfield’s accounts via his office, he said: ‘The NatWest didn’t question it so why would we find it nefarious?’   

In court today, Stunt described acquiring the Duke of Cumberland title by buying a small piece of land as a ‘youthful dalliance.’

But the court heard he bought the title for £995 when he was aged 27 and used it on his driving licence and bank accounts.    

Stunt’s billionaire lifestyle of gambling and big spending was in stark contrast to income declared on his tax returns, the court heard this morning.

While living in ‘America’s biggest house’ and married to Formula One heiress Petra Ecclestone, 33, the socialite had a ‘total legitimate income’ of £11,403 in 2013 to 2014 and even got a £206 tax rebate. 

The 40-year-old’s total after-tax income in 2011, the year of his lavish wedding, was £68,000, with Stunt describing himself as ‘tax-efficient’, the jury heard.

Stunt disagreed with the claim he became increasingly ‘reliant’ on the Ecclestone family and his father for money.

‘They are equally reliant on myself,’ he said, when questioned by Mr Clarke.  

Analysis of Stunt and his ex-wife’s financial affairs revealed they jointly spent £69million during their seven-year marriage, the court heard.

He also said he had the world’s ‘biggest allocation’ of a number of fine wines. 

Asked if Ms Ecclestone contributed the majority of funds to their joint account, he replied: ‘On the face of it, yes.’

Stunt told the court that before his marriage, he was given free shares in the betting company Betfair and ended up making a profit of ‘around £10million to £15million’ from selling his stake.

He said he was given the shares for ‘bringing in high-end rollers’.

Mr Clarke told Stunt a key question he wanted to address was ‘where is the cash from’. 

The barrister said this referred to all £266million of allegedly criminal cash that was said to have been ‘money-laundered’.

Stunt admitted from that point he had never had a ‘nine-to-five job’ but said he was ‘around lots of high-net-worth individuals’. 

He told the jury: ‘It’s not difficult to put them together to make deals and be on the receiving end of lots of generosity.’

The court heard in 2013 to 2014 he had a total income of £11,403. Stunt said of this figure: ‘On the face of it yes, but in reality it’s not always the same.’

Stunt added that his assets did not appear on tax returns and he had the world’s ‘biggest allocation’ of certain fine wines.

He said: ‘Things can appear a certain way that are not a certain way.’

After being asked about figures on his HMRC tax returns, Stunt told the jury: ‘There’s a big difference between tax avoidance, tax evasion and tax efficiency. 

‘I believe everyone should pay tax but be as tax-efficient as possible.’

Earlier in the trial, Stunt had told the jury at one point he was the world’s ‘second-largest gambler’ and agreed he probably lost many millions of pounds.

Mr Clarke asked the socialite about his own assessment that he was not a ‘glib or arrogant man.’

He admitted that when he was aged 17 or 18, he bought land that gave him the titles of Duke of Cumberland and the Marquis of Cumbria.

Stunt is accused of being at the heart of a massive money-laundering operation involving Bradford-based gold bullion dealer Fowler Oldfield, turning criminal cash into gold. 

He has insisted his firm Stunt and Co, set up to manufacture gold bars, was legitimate.  

Heidi Buckler, 45, Greg Frankel, 44, Paul Miller, 45, Haroon Rashid, 51, Daniel Rawson, 45, Francesca Sota, 34, Stunt and Alexander Tulloch, 41, all deny money laundering. Stunt and Sota also deny forgery.

The trial continues.

Stunt (pictured today with Ms Robinson) said he was given free shares in the betting company Betfair and ended up making a profit of 'around £10million to £15million' from selling his stake

Stunt (pictured today with Ms Robinson) said he was given free shares in the betting company Betfair and ended up making a profit of ‘around £10million to £15million’ from selling his stake

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