Former Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone has been handed a 17-month suspended sentence following a guilty plea in a $545 million fraud case. The charges accused Ecclestone of failing to declare overseas assets to the UK government, allegations he initially denied but later changed his plea at a case management hearing in Southwark crown court in London.
Prosecutors revealed that Ecclestone would pay $733 million to HM Revenue and Customs, the UK’s tax authority. In addition to the suspended jail term, he was also ordered to cover prosecution costs amounting to $101,000.
The sentencing judge, Mr. Justice Bryan, acknowledged the gravity of Ecclestone’s offenses but considered factors such as his age, health, and the potential impact on his young child, deeming him at low risk of reoffending.
The 92-year-old Ecclestone, a prominent figure in global motorsport, ran Formula One from the late 1970s until January 2017, overseeing its development into a coveted global media asset. During his tenure, he maintained tight control over both the commercial and sporting aspects of the business.
In 2017, Formula One was sold by CVC, its previous private equity owner, to Liberty Media, a US company. Ecclestone was removed from his leadership position, and Liberty Media has since endeavored to rejuvenate the sport by targeting younger audiences, including the production of a successful Netflix documentary titled “Drive to Survive.”
Ecclestone faced charges of fraud by false representation, specifically for not disclosing the existence of a trust in Singapore. He had allegedly misled HMRC by dishonestly stating in July 2015 that he had only established a single trust for his daughters. During a meeting with tax officers in the same year, he replied “no” when asked if he had connections to additional trusts “in or outside the UK,” although he should have stated his inability to answer.
Ecclestone’s defense barrister expressed his regret for the events leading to the trial, while he had previously attended court alongside his wife, Fabiana, who holds a vice-president role at the International Automobile Federation (FIA) and is a member of the FIA world motor sport council. The businessman has three adult daughters and a young son, Ace.
Simon York, director of the tax authority’s fraud investigation service, declared in July that the charges followed a “complex and worldwide criminal investigation,” emphasizing HMRC’s commitment to tackling tax fraud. He stated that “no one is beyond our reach.”
Bernie Ecclestone’s legal issues have concluded with a suspended sentence, underlining the enduring importance of financial transparency and compliance with tax authorities.