Millionaire art dealer Charles Saatchi’s accountant has told a court he did not tell his boss and his ex-wife Nigella Lawson 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”.
Rahul Gajjar said that he first became aware that Italian sisters Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo were using credit cards loaned to them by the celebrity couple on themselves at the beginning of last year.
While Francesca’s average monthly spend was £48,000 and Elisabetta’s was £28,000, the other personal assistants employed by Saatchi spent a maximum of £8,000.
Asked by prosecutor Jane Carpenter why he did not go to Saatchi and Lawson with his suspicions straight away, Mr Gajjar said: “It was on the back burner. We were dealing with more corporate matters – more serious corporate matters – and Mr Saatchi and Miss Lawson normally didn’t have time for what we thought were trivial matters.”
Yesterday, jurors at Isleworth Crown Court in west London heard that the sisters are alleged to have spent the money on luxury goods and lived the “high life” as “portrayed in glossy magazines”.
Mr Gajjar said both defendants had been given credit cards in Saatchi’s Conarco Partnership account with Coutt’s bank to buy items for the household.
While 35-year-old Francesca’s credit limit was £25,000 in June 2008 it went up to £50,000 in February 2010 and rose to £100,000 in June 2011.
Mr Gajjar said he had been employed as finance director of Saatchi Gallery Group, part of his Conarco Partnership, since June 2002.
He told jurors that the couple, who went through a high-profile divorce earlier this year, had a number of personal assistants who worked “flexible” hours for them.
Asked what their roles were, he told the court: “It could be personal matters, looking after the home. It could be some work-related matters very close to Charles and Nigella.”
Saatchi and the TV chef broke up after pictures were published in a newspaper showing him holding his wife of 10 years by the throat.
The court previously heard that Saatchi alleges that Lawson was so high on drugs that she was unaware of what she had or had not permitted the sisters to spend money on.
The Grillos, both of Kensington Gardens Square, Bayswater, west London, deny the charge against them.
It is alleged that between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2012, they committed fraud, abusing their positions as PAs by using a company credit card for personal gain.
The court heard that the monthly average amount Miss Lawson spent on her credit card was just £7,000.
The sisters are accused of spending more than £685,000 on themselves. The court heard that Francesca ran up a £64,000 bill in June last year as she went on luxury holidays and bought designer clothes.
Mr Gajjar, 44, told jurors that the defendant made dozens of payments for personal use.
Her expenditure included over £4,700 on flights to New York, where she spent £1,850 at high-end fashion store Miu Miu and over £2,000 on hotels.
She also used the card to pay a £1,280 bill at the Ritz hotel in Paris on the same day she bought a Chloe dress for £723.
On June 12 last year she spent £5,385 at Miu Miu London and £2,650 at designer store Prada.
Mr Gajjar told the court he met with the sisters at the Saatchi family home off the King’s Road, west London, on July 3 last year to examine their credit card statements.
He said Francesca explained that some of the transactions were for payments on behalf of her employers, some she was not sure of and others were personal.
“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.