James Stunt claimed he didn’t commit a crime by instructing his PA to ‘forge my signature’ to buy an Andy Warhol painting because ‘forge means make a friendship.’
The socialite told the court: ‘I use very bizarre language.’ Adding: ‘I was born in 1982, my grammar would sometimes be unfortunate.’
Stunt said his personal assistant Francesca Sota was entitled to sign the official bank document on his behalf ‘in line with her PP duties.’
An assistant given authority can sign a document on someone’s else behalf but should sign their own name with the letters PP before it, the jury was told.
But Sota wrote Stunt’s name on the document after receiving a text from her boss stating: ‘Please forge my signature first thing in the morning and witness it yourself.’
The court heard the instruction was to purchase a £320,000 Warhol painting while he was in a Los Angeles hospital in February 2015 following a tennis injury.
Stunt said the purchase was completed using his own money and there was nothing untoward about it.
James Stunt (pictured with girlfriend Helena Robinson) claimed he didn’t commit a crime by instructing his PA to ‘forge my signature’ to buy an Andy Warhol painting because ‘forge means make a friendship’
The ex-husband of heiress Petra Ecclestone (pictured together) said Sota was hired after being interviewed by a specialist recruitment agency and his own wife
The ex-husband of heiress Petra Ecclestone said Sota was hired after being interviewed by a specialist recruitment agency and his own wife.
Asked about this process, he said: ‘I would never put down my wife but like me she was not the sharpest mind in Christendom. It’s hardly a huge vetting process.’
He told Leeds Cloth Hall court Sota was ‘shy, articulate and intelligent’ and had a degree in fine art.
The only time she was given a gift was when Stunt and his wife gave her a Rolex watch for Christmas, the court heard.
‘It wasn’t that expensive a Rolex, about £4,000 to £5,000.
Commenting on his generosity, Stunt said he once bought ‘five strangers a much more expensive Daytona [Rolex] watch.’
He said: ‘I’m a nice person, I’m a generous person. That’s my nature. You may not agree with it but that’s the truth.’
Stunt stands accused of being at the centre of a £266million money laundering operation to turn criminal cash into gold.
James Stunt with his girlfriend leaving Leeds Cloth Hall Court after a hearing last week
Commenting on his belief in gold as a form of investment, Stunt told the jury by 2010 – the year before his marriage – he owned about 80 or 90 kilos of gold.
‘I have always held a significant amount of my personal wealth in gold,’ he said.
Stunt said he liked having his Stunt and Co gold bars and added: ‘They were the most beautiful bars in the world.’
He told the court around £10m of his gold had gone ‘missing’ or was ‘stolen’ and that gold would now be worth around £20m.
Prosecutor Nicholas Clarke, KC, put it to Stunt that at the time of his marriage to Petra there was ‘no limit’ placed on his spending.
Stunt replied: ‘I don’t appreciate your personal sexist attack.’
He said he gave ‘hundreds of thousands of pounds’ in charitable donations after their divorce and spent £4m to £6m on divorce lawyers.
Stunt told Mr Clarke the Crown’s case was a ‘a hatchet job on my character.’
The socialite insisted he was ‘independently wealthy’ before he met his wife and after their divorce and had not resorted to money laundering to make money after the split.
‘I wouldn’t get involved in a criminal enterprise, it wouldn’t happen.’
Stunt completed his evidence on his sixth day in the witness box.
Stunt, 40, and Sota, 34, deny money laundering and forgery.
Heidi Buckler, 45, Greg Frankel, 44, Paul Miller, 45, Haroon Rashid, 51, Daniel Rawson, 45, and Alexander Tulloch, 41, all deny money laundering.
The case continues.