Globe-trotting luxury spending sprees by the Italian sisters accused of embezzling almost £700,000 from Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson were detailed in court today.
In a day of proceedings that shed light on the multi-millionaire’s finances, Mr Saatchi’s accountant, Rahul Gajjar, said he did not tell the former couple of his suspicions that their personal assistants, Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo, were spending thousands of pounds of their money as he did not want to bother them with “trivial matters”.
Mr Saatchi had a monthly household credit card bill of £100,000, Isleworth Crown Court heard.
Mr Gajjar said that in one month alone Francesca Grillo spent £4,700 on return flights to New York, thousands more on opulent hotel stays in London, the Ritz in Paris and Mallorca, a £723 dress from Chloé, a jacket and shoes costing £2,725 from Miu Miu and a Louis Vuitton bag for £2,300.
The accountant told the court that in June last year Francesca, 35, had admitted spending another £5,385 in Miu Miu, a subsidiary of Prada, and more than £2,500 on designer clothes and accessories elsewhere – all in one day. Elisabetta, 41, had admitted spending almost £5,000 on personal items in the same month, he added, at stores including Harvey Nichols and Liberty.
It was a shopping list that went on for so long it prevented Mr Saatchi from giving evidence yesterday as he arrived at the court in his trademark tie-less, buttoned-up white shirt and dark suit expecting to speak in the embezzlement trial. An hour later he left without being able to take the stand.
Mr Gajjar, 44, had earlier told the jury that the Grillos’ regular combined monthly spend of tens of thousands of pounds was a “trivial matter” that he did not want to bother Mr Saatchi and his then wife with as they were dealing with “more important corporate matters”.
Only when the Grillos’ combined monthly credit card bill hit £76,000 did alarm bells ring. The three other personal assistants employed by Mr Saatchi had a maximum average spend of £8,000, while the average amount Ms Lawson spent on her card per month was £7,000.
Mr Gajjar confronted Francesca Grillo after she spent £65,000 on a company credit card bill in July 2012. The statement ran to 15 pages. He told the court some purchases had been on behalf of the Saatchi and Lawson family, but that Grillo had acknowledged she had spent more than £34,000 on luxury goods for herself.
A company taxi account showed 107 personal trips booked by Francesca and 10 by Elisabetta during June 2012. Referring to Francesca’s spending spree on luxury clothes, Mr Gajjar said: “She admitted that they were for her own use, her personal expenditure, which she was slightly apologetic about and vowed to reimburse the company or Charles.”
Mr Gajjar said both defendants had been given credit cards in Mr Saatchi’s Conarco Partnership account with Coutts bank to buy items for the household. While Francesca’s credit limit was £25,000 in June 2008 it rose to £50,000 in February 2010 and to £100,000 in June 2011.
He told jurors that the celebrity couple, who divorced earlier this year after pictures were published showing Mr Saatchi holding his wife of 10 years by the throat, agreed that the sisters should continue working for them after the alleged offences came to light.
It was suggested that they continued to draw current salaries, with Francesca expected to pay back £1,000 a month and Elisabetta £250. They were also able to live rent-free at a flat owned by Ms Lawson in Battersea, central London, the court heard. But Mr Gajjar said the defendants reacted angrily to this.
“They felt it tied them to the company for the rest of their lives,” he said, adding that the assistants told him they were “being treated worse than Filipino slaves”.
The two sisters are accused of spending £685,000 of the celebrity couple’s money, which the crown alleges they spent on designer clothes, flights and five-star hotels. The pair, from Bayswater, west London, deny fraud.
Mr Saatchi is due to give evidence in court on Friday.