Bernie Ecclestone avoided prison on Thursday. In the trial for fraud worth millions, the 92-year-old former Formula 1 boss surprisingly pleaded guilty and agreed to pay the tax office 652 million pounds (around 756 million euros). The court in London sentenced him to 17 months in prison, but suspended the sentence for two years. As British media such as the Daily Mail reported, the admission of guilt and the additional payment were apparently part of a deal with the judiciary. Ecclestone had previously denied the fraud allegations. He was accused of misrepresenting more than £400 million in overseas assets for tax purposes in 2015.
Ecclestone is said to have failed to report more than £400 million (around €464 million) in a trust fund in Singapore. Judge Simon Bryan therefore sentenced the Brit to a 17-month suspended sentence. Ecclestone previously surprised with a confession: "I plead guilty," he said as he stood in the courtroom wearing a dark three-piece suit and a gray tie.
He had previously always denied the allegations. Prosecutor Richard Wright said Ecclestone had admitted his previous answers were wrong. "He now accepts that some tax is due in relation to these matters." Defense lawyer Christine Montgomery said the former motorsport manager “deeply regrets the events that led to this criminal trial.”
On July 7, 2015, the billionaire failed to declare the trust fund in Singapore. Judge Bryan noted: "Her offending is so serious that neither a fine nor a community order would be appropriate. It is rightly recognized that the custodial threshold has been exceeded." However, he said he took into account a number of mitigating factors in his sentence, including Ecclestone's health and age, and that he had no previous convictions. A sentence of up to ten years in prison would have been possible.
Ecclestone has already been in court once. In August 2014, he was acquitted of bribery charges by the Munich district court - in exchange for a payment of 100 million dollars. The prosecution accused him of having paid former BayernLB board member Gerhard Gribkowsky a $44 million bribe when Formula 1 changed ownership. In return, he received a consulting commission of $41 million from BayernLB for his work on Formula 1 sales. The case caused a stir as critics complained that the billionaire had bought his way out.