James Stunt 'didn't know it was an offence to ask PA to forge signature to get £320k'

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The former son-in-law of tycoon Bernie Ecclestone said he was “jacked up on morphine” in a Los Angeles hospital when he emailed Francesca Sota “please forge my signature” so he could withdraw £320,000. Stunt, 40, is one of eight defendants on trial over an alleged multi-million-pound money-laundering operation.

Prosecutors at Leeds Cloth Hall Crown Court have claimed that during an investigation “it became apparent that Stunt instructed Sota to forge his signature on an important financial document” in February 2015.

Stunt said on that day he was in hospital due to a tennis injury suffered at the US home he was sharing with his then-wife Petra Ecclestone.

He said he had tried to buy a painting by the late US artist with one of his “multiple bank accounts” but “made a human error and didn’t realise there weren’t enough funds”.

The court was also shown a photo of Stunt with King Charles, the then Prince of Wales, which he said was at Clarence House or St James’s Palace.

Stunt said: “There are more than one photo of me and His Majesty.” He also told the court he knew ex-PM David Cameron “intimately”.

Jurors heard that on February 9 2015 Stunt told Arbuthnot Latham private bank he was going to write a cheque for £320,000. Nicholas Clarke KC, prosecuting, said a document was sent for Stunt to sign before the bank would let him draw the extra funds.

The court was told an email from Stunt to Sota read: “Please forge my signature first thing in the morning get [Stunt’s brother] Lee or witness it yourself please this must be signed and emailed to the relevant parties.”

Stunt wrote later: “Call me as soon as you can I need that bank thing signed witnessed and sent to them or the payment won’t be sent that screws me badly!”

Sota emailed Arbuthnot Latham: “Please find attached the signed document by Mr Stunt and myself as a witness.”

Stunt told jurors he was “a man of integrity. It’s my own money, I think this [forgery] is a laughable charge.”

He said that he “didn’t mean to put [Sota] in any precarious position” and that he “didn’t know this was even an offence. I didn’t mean forgery.

“Forge can mean a friendship. I could forge a friendship with you, Your Honour. I meant, ‘Please make my signature in my name’. I thought it was part of her duties [as a personal i ]”S ld h h assistant].” Stunt told the court that businessmen including his father and former F1 chief Mr Ecclestone use personal stamps of their signatures.

He added: “I thought Miss Sota had full authority with my permission to stamp my signature.

“Bernie Ecclestone does it, my father does it, if that’s a crime you should lock up half the court.”

The jury has heard that the alleged money-laundering operation saw £266million deposited in the bank account of gold dealer Fowler Oldfield from 2014 to 2016.

Prosecutors claim that “criminal cash” was transported from all over the country to Fowler Oldfield’s premises in Bradford, West Yorks, before the scheme “went national” and Stunt’s offices in London also started receiving money.

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.



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