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
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions