Former Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone escapes jail time in fraud case

Former Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, 92, on Thursday escaped jail time in his fraud case in a UK court.Picture: Henry Nicholls/AFP

Former Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, 92, on Thursday escaped jail time in his fraud case in a UK court.Picture: Henry Nicholls/AFP

Published Oct 12, 2023


Former Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone on Thursday received a non-custodial sentence after pleading guilty in a UK court to charges of failing to declare a multi-million-pound trust in Singapore to the British tax authorities.

The 92-year-old, wearing a dark suit and grey tie, told London's Southwark Crown court: "I plead guilty.”

He was handed a 17-month sentence suspended for two years, meaning he will only serve jail time if he reoffends within that time.

Ecclestone was charged last year over an alleged failure to declare more than £400 million ($453 million) of overseas assets to the UK government in 2015, and was due to stand trial in November.

‘No undeclared trusts’

He had previously told tax officials that he did not have any undeclared trusts in or outside the UK.

But prosecutor Richard Wright told court: "That answer was untrue or misleading.

"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.”

"He now accepts that some tax is due in relation to these matters," added Wright.

The court heard Ecclestone had agreed a civil settlement of £652,634,836 with tax authorities.

The British businessman, whose financial net worth has been estimated at some $3 billion, is widely credited with transforming F1 commercially.

His control of the sport developed from the sale of television rights in the 1970s and he was chief executive of Formula One Group until January 2017.

The flamboyant former second-hand car salesman ran Formula One with an iron fist for more than four decades, building it into a global empire with a cut-glass brand.

But his career has not been without controversy.

Ecclestone paid $100 million to German authorities to end a high-profile bribery trial in 2014, which was linked to the sale of Formula One's rights in 2006 and 2007.

Although he had faced a possible 10-year prison sentence if found guilty, many in the F1 paddock remained loyal.

"F1 is what it is thanks to Bernie Ecclestone, to the way he has built this sport over the past 35 years," Christian Horner, team principal at Red Bull, said at the time. "I think that without him we would have big problems.”

Divorce payout

He also stoked up controversy in 2009 by claiming that Adolf Hitler was a man who "was able to get things done" and that democracy had not worked out for Britain.

Holder of a chemistry degree from Woolwich Polytechnic in southeast London, Ecclestone, known for his grey mop-top hairstyle, began his career selling cars and motorcycles in the capital, and also briefly drove race cars himself.

His own modest career was cut short following a series of accidents and he turned to the business side of racing.

He was a manager of promising British F1 driver Stuart Lewis-Evans, who died in a fiery crash in 1958. A decade later he managed Austrian Jochen Rindt, who was killed in a crash in 1970 and is the only driver to posthumously win the F1 world title.

In 1971 Ecclestone bought the Brabham team, becoming a member of the Formula One Constructors' Association, the group that represented teams against what became the International Automobile Federation (FIA).

Ecclestone's influence increased as he took over responsibility for negotiating television rights for Formula One, which until then was done on a race-by-race basis.

One of the first to recognise the potential in sponsorship, he became the exclusive manager of F1 rights, taking the helm of Formula One Management, negotiating with circuits, advertisers and television stations.

Ecclestone's fortune was dented after having had to pay out one billion euros ($1.3 billion) to divorce his wife Slavica -- the mother of two of his children, Tamara and Petra.

In 2012, he remarried for a third time, to Brazilian Fabiana Flosi, 46 years his junior and whom he met at the South American country's grand prix.