An unlikely witness could be called to testify in the bitter and very public divorce battle of Melanie Brown, aka Mel B, and her estranged husband Stephen Belafonte.
“Big Jim” Byrnes, 57, former financial adviser to bankrupt businessman Alan Bond, who is often referred to as a “colourful Sydney business identity”, has claimed he has been asked to make himself available as a witness in the Los Angeles divorce hearing set to begin this month.
“I have known them for some time. He is an alpha male and she is an alpha female. They are both quite aggressive vocally, but in all of the time we spent together, I have never seen him raise a hand to her, even though they have had some arguments that would make a gangster blush,” Byrnes told Fairfax Media.
“The real victims here are the children. When you are a public identity you should go away and handle this situation privately, despite the circumstances. When this trial starts things will come out.
“Reputations take a lifetime to earn and a minute to lose.”
Byrnes is no stranger to the legal arena. He was jailed for the deemed supply of heroin in the 1980s, banned twice by ASIC, and convicted over his use of a baseball bat to negotiate terms with a Sydney solicitor via the solicitor’s office window.
“Something happened to me when I was 23 [heroin charge] – the press still bring it up 34 years later. I am not proud of it but it doesn’t define who I am. I know how important reputation is,” he added.
Byrnes and his wife Gina, who he is separated from, became family friends with the former Spice Girls star, nicknamed Scary Spice, and the film producer, both 42, in 2012 when she was based in Sydney while judging the X Factor and Dancing with the Stars.
He said their friendship developed further when the Byrnes family moved to Los Angeles for 18 months, where Brown and Belafonte lived with their one biological daughter – Madison Brown Belafonte, six, and Brown’s two other daughters Phoenix Gulzar, 18, with her ex-husband, former backing dancer Jimmy Gulzar and Angel Murphy Brown, 10, with actor Eddie Murphy.
Byrnes claims they were so close that he even entered into business with Belafonte, buying properties, including a small island in Virginia, and investing in Kongzilla entertainment and a ride-sharing business. But following a dodgy deal that Byrnes claims lost him $620,000, they fell out.
After a year of radio silence, Belafonte called Byrnes to settle their differences and asked him if he could make himself available for the hearing. Although he has yet to be named on the current witness list, he agreed but said he would not choose a side.
“We will never be best buddies again. I forgive but I don’t forget, but just because I have been asked by Stephen’s lawyers to appear, it doesn’t mean that I’m ‘team Stephen’. I’m more ‘team truth’. It might backfire for either,” he said.
They have had some arguments that would make a gangster blush.
Mel B filed for divorce from Belafonte in March after nearly 10 years of marriage.
A month later she was granted a temporary restraining order against him after accusing him of physically and emotionally abusing her – saying she was “in fear” for her life – sexual blackmail and getting their German nanny, Lorraine Gilles, pregnant.
Gilles is suing Brown for libel and breach of privacy, while Brown won a five-year restraining order against Gilles, who she claims was harassing her.
Belafonte has denied abusing the singer. He has a separate domestic violence charge from 2003 after an assault on his ex-partner, Nicole Contreras, the mother of his second biological daughter, Giselle.
While there have been multiple allegations made against Brown and Belafonte when it comes to their sex life, Byrnes said they never tried to recruit him and his wife in their games.
“We had a different relationship with them. They never tried to involve us. He is a bit of tomcat though,” he said.