A Yorkshire gold dealership at the centre of one of Britain’s biggest alleged money-laundering operations deposited “more than a million pounds in used notes” to NatWest bank on some days, a trial was told on Tuesday.
The trial heard that from January 2014 to September 2016, more than £266mn in cash and unknown deposits were paid into the NatWest bank account of Bradford-based gold dealer Fowler Oldfield.
Prosecutor Nicholas Clarke QC claimed to the court that it was “blindingly obvious” that the cash being couriered by people using plastic carrier bags, sports bags and holdalls came from criminal activities.
Eight defendants stand trial jointly charged with one count of money laundering, five of whom are linked to Fowler Oldfield. They include James Stunt, former husband of the socialite and motor racing heiress Petra Ecclestone. All those on trial deny wrongdoing.
The trial heard that “substantial amounts of cash” was paid into the bank account of Fowler Oldfield from 2014, which aroused suspicions, and that police were alerted because the daily sums of money involved were akin to the size of takings from a Premier League football club on a match day.
Clarke told the jury that Fowler Oldfield was originally a small family jewellery company which bought scrap gold from the jewellery trade and would also pay cash to customers who brought in scrap gold.
However, the prosecutor claimed there was a “dramatic transformation” to the company in 2013 as it moved from that legitimate trade “to becoming a vehicle for very substantial money laundering of criminal cash”.
The Crown claimed that the defendants “hid” the origin of the cash by “washing” it through a bank account and later using the proceeds to buy gold.
Over two years, it took more than £266mn in cash, including £143.9mn in the eight months up to September 2016. Over one two-week period a courier made 14 trips to Fowler Oldfield delivering more than £2mn in cash, the trial heard.
The money was then taken to an internal counting room using specialist counting machines like those in bank branches. The money was then bundled together into G4S or Post Office bags to await collection by a secure courier.
Bank staff who received the cash noticed that it had an “unusual smell”, the trial heard, while the bag delivered by G4S or the Post Office contained an abnormally large number of Scottish notes.
Police investigating the operation found that between August and September 2016 daily cash deposits at the Fowler Oldfield account ranged between £787,540 and £2.4mn with an average of £1.7mn a day.
The eight defendants are James Stunt, 40, along with Francesca Sota, 34, and Alexander Tulloch, 41, all from London; as well as Gregory Frankel, 44, of West Yorkshire; Daniel Rawson, 45 and also Paul Miller, 45, of Wetherby, Heidi Buckler, 45 of Leeds, and Haroon Rashid, 51. Stunt and Sota also deny one count of forgery.
The trial, which is expected to last four months, continues.