Former Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone arrives at Southwark Crown Court in London, where he is charged with fraud by false representation over an alleged failure to declare '400 million of overseas assets to the Government. Picture date: Thursday October 12, 2023. 74124853 (Press Association via AP Images)
Reuters  — 

Ex-Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone was spared an immediate prison sentence on Thursday after he pleaded guilty to misleading Britain’s tax authority about overseas assets worth more than 400 million pounds ($492 million).

Ecclestone has also agreed a civil settlement with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), under which he will pay 652.6 million pounds covering tax, interest and penalties for 18 tax years between 1994 and 2022, prosecutor Richard Wright said.

The 92-year-old appeared at London’s Southwark Crown Court and pleaded guilty to one count of fraud by false representation, just over 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 favor 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 to a bank account in Singapore in 2010, HMRC said.

Ex-Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone leaves Southwark Crown Court after admitting to fraud in London, Britain, October 12, 2023. REUTERS/Belinda Jiao

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 offense 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 and got into a waiting Range Rover.

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.

In this court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook, former Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone sits with his team in  court before being sentenced at Southwark Crown Court in London, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023.  Ecclestone has been given a suspended prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to a fraud charge over his failure to declare millions of dollars held in a trust in Singapore. The 92-year-old billionaire agreed a civil settlement of 652.6 million pounds, or $803 million, over funds that were owed to Britain's tax office over the course of 18 years. Ecclestone was handed a 17-month term, suspended for two years, at Southwark Crown Court in London.   (Elizabeth Cook/PA  via AP)

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 around 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.