Ex-Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone admits fraud

By John Mercury October 12, 2023

Ex-Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has avoided jail after pleading guilty to fraud over a failure to declare £400m held in a trust in Singapore to the government.

Ecclestone, who turns 93 later this month, was sentenced to 17 months in jail, suspended for two years, at Southwark Crown Court.

The billionaire has made a £652.6m payment to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) covering his tax affairs over 18 years.

He was due to face trial in November but appeared in court today wearing a dark grey suit, supported by his third wife, Fabiana Flosi, to plead guilty to a single count of fraud on 7 July 2015.

Prosecutors said Ecclestone made untrue or misleading representations to HMRC at a July 2015 meeting, when he said he “established only a single trust” in favour of his daughters Deborah, Tamara and Petra.

The court heard Ecclestone answered “no” when asked by HMRC officers whether he had any links to further trusts “in or outside the UK”.

He failed to declare a trust in Singapore with a bank account containing around $650m, worth about £400m at the time.

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Prosecutor Richard Wright KC said Ecclestone “knew his answer may have been untrue or misleading” but “did not know the truth of the position, so was not able to give an answer to the question”.

“Mr Ecclestone recognises it was wrong to answer the questions he did because it ran the risk that HMRC would not continue to investigate his affairs,” he said.

“He now accepts that some tax is due in relation to these matters.”

Former Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone arrives at Southwark Crown Court, London, for a hearing on charges of fraud by false representation over an alleged failure to declare £400 million of overseas assets to the Government. Picture date: Wednesday April 19, 2023.

The court heard Ecclestone saved around £100,000 in fees by bringing the investigation to an end, but Mr Wright said: “One could argue there’s been no savings because the discovery of the lie has led to significant expenditure in legal fees.”

At an earlier hearing, his lawyer Clare Montgomery KC called the evidence of a cardiologist to unsuccessfully argue her client should not face trial because the stress of proceedings could kill him.

Ms Montgomery KC also claimed he was charged a week after he made “extremely unpopular” remarks about Russian President Vladimir Putin on ITV’s Good Morning Britain on 30 June 2022.

“We will be submitting, on the face of it, the assumption he was being prosecuted because of that rather than the legitimate public interest criteria,” she said at the time.

Ecclestone was forced to issue an apology after saying he would “take a bullet” for Mr Putin and described him as “a first-class person”.

Ms Montgomery said Ecclestone “bitterly regrets” the events that led to him being prosecuted, adding: “It was not Mr Ecclestone’s intention to avoid paying tax. He has always been willing to pay the tax that was due.”

She said his answer was an “impulsive lapse of judgement” and that he was now in “frail health” with the proceedings causing “immense stress to him and those who love him”.

Sentencing Eccleston, who was stood in the dock, Mr Justice Bryan said the “undoubted seriousness” of his offending was mitigated by factors including his age, health and the tax settlement he has paid.

“That has caused me to stand back and reflect upon whether the seriousness of your offending is such that appropriate punishment can only be achieved by immediate imprisonment,” he said.

“I am, however, persuaded by the joint submissions, and agreement, of the prosecution and the defence, that the seriousness of your offending does not mean that appropriate punishment can only be achieved by immediate imprisonment, and weighing all of the factors in the balance I am going to pass a suspended sentence order.”

Ecclestone made an inaudible response to questions from reporters as he left court and got into a waiting white Range Rover.

Richard Las, HMRC chief investigation officer, said: “Bernie Ecclestone has had ample time and numerous opportunities to take responsibility and be honest with HMRC about his tax affairs.

“Instead of taking these opportunities he lied to HMRC and as a result we opened a criminal investigation.

“This investigation has involved enquiries around the world and culminated with Bernie Ecclestone’s guilty plea to fraud. He now has a criminal record and has paid £652m relating to his wider tax affairs.”

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