The former head of Formula One, Bernie Ecclestone, has been given a suspended sentence and has paid HMRC £650m to settle a tax case after failing to declare £400m held in an offshore trust
In a brief appearance at Southwark Crown Court, the 92-year-old billionaire plead guilty to a single count of fraud today.
This followed an investigation by HMRC into the tax affairs of Ecclestone, which found that funds had been placed in a Singapore based trust to reduce UK tax liability over a three-year period from July 2013 to October 2016.
He has been sentenced to 17 months in jail, suspended for two years, and has paid HMRC £652m in relation to his wider tax affairs, covering tax, interest and civil penalties. The settlement agreement related to an 18-year period from tax years 1994/1995 to 2021/2022 with a payment in settlement of £652,634,836.
Judge Mr Justice Bryan said: ‘I accept that this settlement reflects a determination and demonstration of steps taken on your part to address your offending subject to this indictment and also reflects remorse on your part for your offending.’
Part of the payment was a Failure to Correct (FTC) penalty for offshore non-compliance charged at the maximum rate of 200%.
Ecclestone was also ordered to pay HMRC’s legal costs of £74,814 within 14 days.
‘The gravamen of your offending is that you dishonestly lied in a settlement meeting with His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs that you were not the settlor or beneficiary of any trust not known to them, so as to make a financial gain for yourself in terms of costs saved by you in relation to ongoing investigations,’ the judge added.
At court, prosecutor Richard Wright said: ‘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.’
He added that Ecclestone ‘now accepts that some tax is due in relation to these matters’.
The investigation started more than a decade ago when HMRC began a civil tax investigation in 2012.
HMRC said that at the time ‘Ecclestone was offered the chance to correct any mistakes in his tax and pay what was owed plus a penalty through a formal civil process known as a Contractual Disclosure Facility (CDF) or a COP9’.
The COP9 process requires the taxpayer to make a ‘full, open and honest’ disclosure or face a criminal investigation.
The former F1 boss said he was not the settlor or beneficiary of any offshore trust in follow up interviews with civil tax investigators in 2015.
HMRC went on to discover with support from authorities in Singapore that Ecclestone was the settlor and beneficiary of trusts, including one which held $646.45 million (£416m) in 2010.
Eccelstone admitted a single charge of fraud by false representation during a hearing at Southwark Crown Court on October 12, 2023.
The CPS provided extensive early investigative advice to HMRC to help develop the joint prosecution strategy, focused on a single offence of fraud by false representation.
Ecclestone’s guilty plea was secured following lengthy negotiations under the Attorney General guidelines on plea discussions in complex fraud (2009).
Richard Las, CBE, chief investigation officer and director fraud investigation service, HMRC, said: ‘Bernie Ecclestone has had ample time and numerous opportunities to take responsibility and be honest with HMRC about his tax affairs.
‘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.
‘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.’
Andrew Penhale, chief crown prosecutor, said: ‘Bernie Ecclestone has pleaded guilty to a single offence of fraud relating to dishonest representations to HMRC. 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.
‘We are pleased to bring such a complex case to a successful conclusion. We worked very closely with HMRC throughout and it is rewarding to see that they have also secured such a significant civil tax settlement.’
Ecclestone had been due to face trial at Southwark Crown Court in November.