Remember Bernie Ecclestone? The former Formula 1 supremo might not be in charge of the sport anymore, but he’s still hitting the headlines—albeit for reasons he would presumably rather avoid. The 92-year-old, who got insanely rich from owning the Formula One Group for many years, has just pled guilty to tax fraud in the UK. In return for his guilty plea and massive back tax payment of £652,634,836 (P45.454 billion), the aging billionaire is avoiding a stint in jail.
He might be used to being the boss and frequenting glamorous places like Monaco or Gstaad, but this week he had to play second fiddle in the humbling surroundings of a London courtroom. According to British prosecutors, the once most influential man in motorsports misdeclared foreign assets worth more than £400 million (P22.71 billion) in his taxes over a period of 18 years.
The money was held in a trust in Singapore, and he failed to mention it when asked by UK tax authorities in 2015. As a result of pleading guilty and paying the huge settlement that includes penalty charges and interest, he has been given a 17-month prison sentence suspended for two years.
The billionaire was originally due to stand trial next month after he initially pleaded not guilty. We don’t know what made him change his mind at almost the 11th hour, but maybe he realized that the prospect of spending what might be his last years on earth in prison wasn’t a nice one.
We don’t know what made him change his mind at almost the 11th hour, but maybe he realized that the prospect of spending what might be his last years on earth in prison wasn’t a nice one
The potential penalty for his crime was up to 10 years behind bars. His day in court came on the back of an HM Revenue and Customs investigation. Ecclestone told the British taxman during a meeting back in 2015 that he was not the settlor nor beneficiary of any trust in or outside the country, but when tax detectives did some digging, they discovered the trust in Singapore.
According to the prosecutor, Ecclestone now admitted that he gave an untrue or misleading answer back then, wasn’t sure about the ownership of the accounts in question, and now accepts that ‘some’ tax is due in relation to the matter.
That’s very polite British legal speak for: “Write us a big check, mate, and we’ll forget all about it.” The payment will hardly make him go bankrupt, as he is still considered to be a multibillionaire. His wealth came as a result of being in charge of Formula 1 for many years, and turning the racing series into a global money-making monster. He only stepped aside after F1 was sold to Liberty Media for $4.4 billion.