Sisters embezzled almost £700,000 from Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson in globe-trotting luxury spending sprees, court told

Saatchi’s accountant, Rahul Gajjar, said he did not tell the former couple of his suspicions that their personal assistants were spending thousands of pounds of their money as he did not want to bother them with 'trivial matters'

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis