Charles Saatchi’s accountants did not scrutinise the credit cards used by his and Nigella Lawson’s personal assistants, because it was not their job to get involved in the household expenditure, a court has heard.
Mr Saatchi’s finance director, Rahul Gajjar, said the finance team did not check the statements for Coutts credit cards given to PAs “line by line” because it was not for them to comment on what was being spent.
Mr Gajjar, who first gave evidence to Isleworth Crown Court last week, said today that it was not his job to comment on “how much dry cleaning” or “how much potatoes” the house was purchasing.
The finance director previously told the court that former personal assistants Elisabetta Grillo, 41, and her sister Francesca, 35, became agitated when he wrote to them about their alleged use of the celebrity couple’s credit cards to buy £685,000-worth of luxury goods for themselves.
The sisters are accused of committing fraud by abusing their positions by using a company credit card for personal gain.
Prosecutors claim the Italian sisters lived the ”high life”, spending the money on designer clothes and handbags from Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Vivienne Westwood.
The Grillo sisters, of Kensington Gardens Square, Bayswater, west London, deny the charge against them.
Today, Mr Gajjar told the court that the Coutts credit cards were issued to personal assistants after Mr Saatchi decided he wanted to take care of all household spending using them.
The finance director said that, previously, Barclays credit cards, with limits of £750 per month, were issued to four personal assistants in July 2006, including Francesca Grillo but not her sister, in case they had to undertake any business spending.
Those statements were scrutinised to see if any business spending could be offset on tax and profits, he said, but it soon emerged that there was “hardly any” so they were later stopped.
“The Barclays cards were not for personal expenditure, they were set up in case there was any business expenditure,” he said.
Mr Gajjar said the total expenditure for the period between July 2006 and September 2007 on the Barclays cards was £15,131.
The court heard that some of the cards may have had their limits increased to £1,250, but Mr Gajjar said it was decided that there was nothing in them that could be offset against taxable profits, so it was considered a “fruitless exercise” and the cards were stopped.
But he said the Coutts cards were for “home staff” to use for spending relating to the household.
Asked whether the statements for these cards were scrutinised, he said: “It was not our role, my role or my staff’s role to scrutinise the expenditure and forecast and budget on home life.
“It’s not our duty to comment on how much dry cleaning, how much potatoes the house was purchasing, it’s details we just couldn’t get into.”
Asked by Anthony Metzer QC, representing Elizabetta Grillo, sometimes referred to as Lisa, if he would have been concerned if a large sum – £1 million, for example – had been spent on a “home card”, Mr Gajjar told the court: “If Charles wanted to buy an expensive gift for Nigella, it would not be my job to say ’You could have got it cheaper on eBay’.”
When questioned whether Mr Saatchi was aware that the cards were not being scrutinised, he said: “He is well aware that we have never scrutinised his home expenses.
“It was not a job for the finance department to go through, scrutinise, forecast and budget on home expenditure.
“The finance team are there to look after business.”
He added: “It was for the home to consider these expenses. There was trust in the staff that were given these cards.
“Lisa and Francesca were part of the family and they had trust.”
Asked if he was not interested in the expenditure on the cards, he told the court: “I would have been interested in the total numbers, realising that there is some serious expenditure going on and Charles would have an issue with that.
“We looked at the summaries, we would look through the summaries, see what the general spending would be, but in terms of the detail we wouldn’t get involved in ’What’s this for? What’s that for?’
“The summaries were checked, the individual expenditures were not scrutinised.”
Pressed by Mr Metzer on the issue, Mr Gajjar said: “It was not for me to comment. It was not my job.”
Giving evidence at the trial last week, Ms Lawson spoke of suffering “intimate terrorism” at the hands of ex-husband Mr Saatchi, describing him as a “brilliant, but brutal man”.
The celebrity cook revealed details of her past drug use, saying she would rather be “honest and ashamed” than “bullied with lies”, and admitted taking cocaine with her late husband, John Diamond, when he found out he had terminal cancer, and on another occasion in July 2010 during her troubled marriage to Mr Saatchi.
But the 53-year-old, who also admitted smoking cannabis in the last year of her marriage to the multi-millionaire art gallery owner, said the idea that she is a “drug addict or habitual user of cocaine is absolutely ridiculous”.
She denied hiding the Class A drug in the box containing her late husband’s wedding rings, and said she would never risk leaving her children as “orphans” by taking drugs.
Ms Lawson has also accused her multi-millionaire ex-husband of “peddling” stories about her alleged drug habit, including that he was checking her nose for cocaine when he was photographed gripping her throat outside Scott’s restaurant in central London.
The court heard that there were a few occasions when Francesca Grillo's credit card was declined while on holiday, possibly because it had exceeded its limit, and that she sent Mr Gajjur a text messge about it.
The finance director said: “There were a few occurrences where we had to raise the limit because previously he (Mr Saatchi) didn’t want the card to be stopped when it involved the house and the children.”
The court heard that Francesca Grillo would sometimes use her own money to pay for things when her card did not work.
Mr Gajjur said: “I did not get involved in home life – I have said this time and time again.
“I didn’t know what the mechanics and the logistics were.”
Asked if he had considered that Francesca Grillo was taking cash out on her credit card, he said: “I don’t know if I considered cash”, but he added that Mr Saatchi and Ms Lawson regularly requested bundles of cash for the home.