Ex-Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has admitted fraud after failing to declare more than £400 million held in a trust in Singapore to the Government.
The 92-year-old, wearing a dark suit and grey tie, said “I plead guilty” at Southwark Crown Court in London on Thursday.
He was sentenced to 17 months in prison, suspended for two years. The billionaire had originally been due to stand trial next month after initially pleading not guilty.
In July 2015, the billionaire failed to declare a trust in Singapore with a bank account containing around $650 million, worth about £400 million at the time.
The court heard the former racing driver has agreed a civil settlement of £652,634,836 in respect of sums due to HMRC.
The charge stated Ecclestone, who has three grown-up daughters, Deborah, Tamara and Petra, and a young son, Ace, 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”.
Before his guilty plea, he had been due to face trial in November on the single fraud charge.
His defence barrister, Christine Montgomery KC, told sentencing judge Mr Justice Bryan that the defendant “bitterly regrets the events that led to this criminal trial”.
In 2014, Ecclestone agreed to pay £60 million to bring an end to a bribery trial in Germany.
Ecclestone was alleged to have bribed a German banker to steer the sale of German regional bank BayernLB’s 47.2 per cent stake in F1 to a private equity firm, CVC Capital Partners, in 2006. CVC were the majority shareholders in F1 at the time.
At the time, Ecclestone said he was “a bit of an idiot” for paying the settlement.
After deliberating for three hours on the offer made by the defence and agreed by the prosecution, the presiding judge, Peter Noll, declared: “The charges could not, in important areas, be substantiated.”
As a result of that investigation, HMRC opened a tax fraud investigation into Ecclestone.
Mr Wright told the court that a meeting was held between Ecclestone and HMRC officers in July 2015.
He said that Ecclestone was “seeking to a draw a line under investigations into his tax affairs.”
Mr Wright added: “He was fed up of paying huge bills for advice.”
The court heard Ecclestone had said “no” when asked by HMRC officers whether he had any links to further trusts “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 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 were 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.”
Ecclestone is due to be sentenced on Thursday.