You know a news article is going to be interesting if the phrase "former billionaire" appears in it. And a recent story in The Art Newspaper about reportedly "bankrupt playboy" James Stunt, ex-husband of Ecclestone heiress Petra Ecclestone, does not disappoint. It's a story that involves Stunt's alleged attempts to profit by one of the most exciting crimes it's possible to commit: art forgery.
Stunt, who was accused last month of having loaned forged paintings to Prince Charles's foundation, is now being accused of having attempted to borrow some $51.7 million against these same paintings. This leads some to speculate that the loan to Prince Charles was in order to increase the value of these works by displaying them in the Dumfries House, where Prince Charles's foundation is located.
The three allegedly forged paintings were part of a group of 17 works that some time ago were loaned to Dumfries House for a period of ten years, and were supposed to be the work of masters Monet, Picasso and Dalí. But an American artist named Tony Tetro claims to have painted the three works himself, bringing his claims to the press and causing the paintings to be removed from public display.
Three art loan firms have claimed to have been approached by Stunt. They can't be publicly named due to various confidentiality agreements, but one company released a statement about their dealings with Stunt – or lack thereof:
"We were approached three years ago by intermediaries for various works of art. Some were genuine, but all came from the same source, and that was James Stunt—someone we would never do business with. We turned them down immediately."
The two other firms had similar stories, like this one:
"Stunt came to me to borrow money; the works were partly at Dumfries House, and partly in London, and claimed to be genuine. We were never given access to the paintings or documents. Initially, he wanted [$52.6 million] and then at the beginning of November there was another approach, for [$17 million] within two weeks. And then he disappeared."
Stunt declared bankruptcy in June of this year, with debts totaling about $6.4 million – $5 million of which he owes to the Christie's auction house.
Around the same time as this scandal was revealed, Petra took to Instagram to share some scathing allegations against Stunt. Here is a sample of the postings Petra made on Instagram, apparently because James will not leave her alone and has allegedly spread lies about her family:
"It is now time to tell the truth about my ex-husband – a horrible and narcissistic man who simply will not leave us alone."
"Let's shatter the James Stunt myth. The man is not a billionaire and never was. Naively, I funded his life for our entire marriage and paid for his cars, his watches, his art (the few real ones) even his failed company."
"Sadly, James always had such a sick obsession with money and being perceived to be an independently successful billionaire. The trouble is he spent most of his days in bed, high on prescription drugs."
"Still to this day I pay the bills of a Rolls-Royce he financed in my name, not to mention the storage of all of his art in LA."