Former Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone handed suspended sentence after pleading guilty to fraud


LONDON (AP) — Former Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone was given a suspended prison sentence Thursday after he pleaded guilty to a fraud charge over his failure to declare millions of dollars held in a trust in Singapore to Britain’s government.

The 92-year-old billionaire agreed to a civil settlement of 652.6 million pounds ($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. Earlier Thursday, he pleaded guilty to a charge that he failed to declare a trust in Singapore with a bank account containing around $650 million when he was asked in 2015 about any trusts abroad that he was involved in.

Prosecutors allege he claimed he had set up “only a single trust” in favor of his three daughters, and that he was “not the settler nor beneficiary of any trust in or outside the U.K.” Prosecutors say he acted “dishonestly” and intended to make a gain from the claims.

“He now accepts that some tax is due in relation to these matters,” prosecutor Richard Wright said.

A judge described his offense as serious, but added he had taken into consideration factors including Ecclestone’s health and age when handing down the sentence.

Ecclestone had pleaded not guilty to the charges earlier this year.

His defense lawyer, Christine Montgomery, told the judge Thursday that he “bitterly regrets the events that led to this criminal trial.”

The business magnate headed Formula One racing and controlled the sport for for four decades from the 1970s to 2017, when he stepped down as chief executive and Liberty Media took over the series.

In recent years he has drawn attention for public comments praising Russian President Vladimir Putin and defending him over the invasion of Ukraine, including last year when he said that he would “take a bullet” for the Russian leader.

Formula One distanced itself from Ecclestone’s comments, saying they did not represent its views, and Ecclestone later apologized.

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