Ecclestone given suspended sentence after changing fraud plea
By Ian Parkes
Thursday 12th October, 2023 - 10:16pm
Former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has been given a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to fraud.
In August last year, Ecclestone, who will be 93 on October 30, initially pleaded not guilty to an allegation of fraud over a failure to declare £400 million [AU $767m; US $491m] in assets of a trust held in Singapore.
Ecclestone had previously been charged with a single count of fraud by false representation between July 13, 2013, and October 5, 2016.
But following an appearance at Southwark Crown Court, London, on Thursday, Ecclestone simply stated: “I plead guilty.”
He was sentenced to 17 months in prison, suspended for two years.
In addition, Ecclestone has agreed in a civil settlement to repay £653m to HM Revenues and Customs.
A reversal in his plea has averted a costly trial that was due to start in November when he will be 93.
The case against Ecclestone was the culmination of a complex and worldwide criminal investigation by HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service.
An indictment stated Ecclestone had dishonestly told HMRC that he “established only a single trust” in favour of his daughters and that “other than the trust established for his daughters he was not the settlor nor beneficiary of any trust in or outside the UK”.
HMRC’s investigation, however, discovered Ecclestone was due to benefit from the trust.
Speaking in court following the guilty plea, prosecutor Richard Wright KC said Ecclestone had knowingly given an “untrue or misleading” answer to HMRC in declaring he had no trust outside the UK.
Reported by the BBC, Wright added: “As of July 7, 2015, Mr Ecclestone did not know the truth of the position, so was not able to give an answer to the question.
“Mr Ecclestone was not entirely clear on how ownership of the accounts in question was structured.
“He therefore did not know whether it was liable for tax, interest, or penalties in relation to amounts passing through the accounts.
“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 now accepts that some tax is due in relation to these matters.”
Defending Ecclestone, Christine Montgomery said her client “bitterly regrets the events that led to this criminal trial”.
Montgomery and her legal team had urged the court not to impose a prison sentence on Ecclestone owing to his age, medical issues, and low level of risk to the public.