Congratulations are in order for the British tabloids, who uncovered the story of their dreams over the weekend—one involving a royal (Prince Charles), well over $130 million, and a scammer whom the Daily Mail is describing as “the bankrupt, bling-loving former husband of Formula 1 heiress Petra Ecclestone.” Perhaps it’s a spoiler alert, but the scammer’s name is also literally James Stunt.
Our story begins in Ayrshire, England, where in 2007, Prince Charles saved an 18th-century estate. Known as Dumfries House, the 2,000-acre property has since become headquarters of the Prince’s Foundation, though it’s still open to the public 365 days a year, hence why it’s filled with impressive permanent collections of furniture, clocks, and art. The displays also occasionally rotate, meaning that at times one of many 17th-century Dutch paintings will make room for, say, a water lilies painting by Monet.
Recently, a water lilies painting did indeed go on display, as well as a Dalì and a Picasso. At least, that’s what the crew at Dumfries House thought. If the Daily Mail is to be believed, all three paintings—worth a total of $136 million—were actually created by the same artist: Tony Tetro. An art forgery heavyweight, Tetro was actually the first to step forward and claim that the paintings on display at Dumfries House were fake. “You can impress your friends with my pictures, decorate your homes with them, but they would never pass expert scrutiny,” he told the Daily Mail, adding that he’s never intended to fool authorities with his work.
So, how did three of his paintings end up at Dumfries House? According to Tetro, that would be thanks to the aforementioned James Stunt, who purchased all three several years ago. “There is no question about it: James knew [the paintings] were mine,” Tetro continued, accusing Stunt, who is currently bankrupt, of intentionally deceiving Prince Charles and co.
And yet, that’s just the beginning: The “Monet,” “Picasso,” and “Dalì” were just three of the 17 total paintings that Stunt offered to Dumfries House on a free 10-year lease, which were on display until the charity recently sent them back his way. As of Monday, the Prince’s Foundation has issued its obligatory statement that Prince Charles had nothing to do with the entire mess, and Stunt has made his obligatory apology to the royal via social media. Meanwhile, the tabloids are already prepping for another stunt of Stunt’s: Apparently, he’s also loaned at least one work to the House of Parliament.