Ecclestone pleaded guilty to a fraud charge over his failure to declare millions of dollars held in a trust in Singapore to UK’s government.
Former Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone was spared an immediate prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to misleading The United Kingdom’s tax authority about overseas assets worth more than 400 million pounds ($492m).
Ecclestone has also agreed a civil settlement with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), under which he will pay 652.6 million pounds ($798.4m) covering tax, interest and penalties for 18 tax years between 1994 and 2022, prosecutor Richard Wright said on Thursday.
The 92-year-old appeared at London’s Southwark Crown Court and pleaded guilty to one count of fraud by false representation, just more than a month before he was due to stand trial.
Ecclestone admitted giving a misleading answer to HMRC at a July 2015 meeting, when he said he had established only a single trust in favour of his daughters and was not a beneficiary or settlor of any other trust.
He was, in fact, the settlor and beneficiary of various trusts, including one which held a company that sent 416 million pounds ($509m) to a bank account in Singapore in 2010, HMRC said.
Judge Simon Bryan gave Ecclestone a 17-month prison sentence suspended for two years, meaning he will only go to jail if he commits another criminal offence during that time.
Ecclestone’s lawyer Clare Montgomery told the court Ecclestone “did not know the true position” about whether he was the beneficiary or settlor of any other trust, saying his answer to HMRC was an “impulsive lapse of judgment”.
Ecclestone gave an unintelligible response to reporters as he left the court.
Andrew Penhale, chief crown prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service, said in a statement, “All members of UK society, regardless of how wealthy or famous they are, must pay their taxes and be transparent and open with HMRC about their financial affairs.”
Richard Las, chief investigation officer and director of the Fraud Investigation Service at HMRC, said Ecclestone had “lied to HMRC”.
“This conviction demonstrates no one is above the law and HMRC will work tirelessly to ensure the tax system is fair to all and pays for our vital public services,” he added.
⚖️ Billionaire businessman Bernie Ecclestone has admitted fraud following a lengthy, complex and worldwide investigation into his tax affairs by HMRC and prosecution by the CPS.
He has paid more than £652m and was sentenced to 17 months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years.
— Crown Prosecution Service (@CPSUK) October 12, 2023
Ecclestone had attempted to stop the prosecution earlier this year, with his lawyers arguing that putting him on trial posed a serious risk to his life.
A cardiologist gave evidence that the stress of the trial meant that Ecclestone was “more likely to die than not during the trial”, according to a June ruling.
However, Bryan said there was “no real and immediate threat to the life of Mr Ecclestone by reason of the trial process”.
The decision also states that Ecclestone paid approximately 250 million pounds in income and capital gains tax to HMRC between 1999 and 2017.
His lawyer Montgomery had noted at a previous hearing in January that Ecclestone was charged shortly after he made “unpopular” comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin.