Bernie Ecclestone, the former boss of Formula 1, has been given a suspended prison sentence after admitting to fraud by false representation in court.
Ecclestone appeared before the judge at Southwark Crown Court on Thursday, stating that “I plead guilty”, having previously pleaded not guilty in June’s court hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court.
Ecclestone admitted to fraud after failing to declare more than £400million held in a trust in Singapore, and has since agreed to pay back more than £652m in a settlement to British authorities, with his sentence eventually being a 17 month prison sentence, suspended for two years – meaning he will only serve prison time if he commits further crimes in the next two years.
What is the background to Bernie Ecclestone’s fraud case?
The former Formula 1 boss was charged earlier in the summer after an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs, the British tax authority, claimed he had failed to declare offshore assets worth in excess of £400m from 13 July 2013 to 5 October 2016.
Ecclestone appeared in Westminster Magistrates Court in June to originally plead not guilty to the single fraud charge against him.
According to the UK’s Independent, the charge levelled at Mr. Ecclestone was that, on July 7th 2015, he failed to declare a trust in Singapore which had a bank account containing around $650million.
The charge stated that he had “established only a single trust, that being one in favour of your daughters and, other than the trust established for your daughters, you were not the settlor nor beneficiary of any trust in or outside the UK”.
Prosecutor Richard Wright KC said: “That answer was untrue or misleading. Mr Ecclestone knew his answer may have been untrue or misleading.
“As of July 7th 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.”
Clare Montgomery KC, representing Ecclestone, is quoted by The Standard as saying Ecclestone “obviously bitterly regrets the events that have led to this criminal trial.
“He had no intention to avoid paying tax and has always been willing to pay the tax that’s due.
“It is common ground he didn’t know the true position – he simply didn’t know the answer to HMRC’s question and he should have said ‘I don’t know’ instead of ‘no’.
“He is now in frail health. The whole process has caused immense stress to him and those who love him.”
Ecclestone has agreed to a civil settlement of £652 million in unpaid tax, interest, and penalties after HMRC discovered his Singapore-based trust, which could prove a large mitigating factor when it comes to his sentence.
Ecclestone served as CEO of the Formula One Group, being known as F1’s ‘supremo’ stemming back to his days leading the Formula One Constructors’ Association (FOCA) as a team owner in the early 1970s.
Becoming ever more powerful over the decades, Ecclestone was removed from his role as CEO in early 2017 following Liberty Media’s purchase of the sport.
Formula 1 declined to pass comment on Bernie Ecclestone’s decision to plead guilty, when approached by PlanetF1.com.