Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi PAs 'spent £76k a month'

Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi
Image caption Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi divorced in July

The PAs of Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi were spending an average of £76,000 a month between them, a court has heard.

Accountant Rahul Gajjar told the trial of Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo, the couple's personal assistants, that he did not tell his employers about his suspicions they were spending so much.

Mr Gajjar told Isleworth Crown Court that other assistants employed by Mr Saatchi spent a maximum of £8,000.

The Grillo sisters both deny fraud.

Mr Saatchi was funding a monthly household credit card bill of £100,000, with his then wife spending £7,000 a month, the jury heard.

'Trivial matters'

Mr Gajjar told the court he did not tell art dealer Mr Saatchi and TV cook Ms Lawson of his suspicions that their personal assistants were spending thousands of pounds of their money, as he did not want to bother them.

Asked by the prosecution why he did not go to his employer with his suspicions straight away, Mr Gajjar said: "It was on the back burner.

Image caption Elisabetta (left) and Francesca Grillo both deny fraud

"We were dealing with more corporate matters - more serious corporate matters - and Mr Saatchi and Ms Lawson normally didn't have time for what we thought were trivial matters."

The court has already heard that Mr Saatchi accused Ms Lawson of allowing their staff to spend to cover her use of drugs.

Mr Saatchi arrived at court to give evidence. However, shortly afterwards he was told that his evidence would not be heard on Thursday.

Francesca Grillo's average monthly spending was £48,000 and Elisabetta's was £28,000, the court heard.

Francesca ran up a £64,000 bill in June last year, the court heard.

Credit card limit

Her expenses included more than £4,700 on flights to New York, where she spent £1,850 at fashion store Miu Miu and more than £2,000 on hotels.

She also used the credit card to pay a £1,280 bill at the Ritz hotel in Paris and bought a £723 Chloe dress on the same day.

Her expenses also included £5,385 at Miu Miu in London and £2,650 at designer store Prada.

Francesca Grillo's credit limit went up from £25,000 in June 2008 to £50,000 in February 2010, rising to £100,000 in June 2011, the jury heard.

Mr Gajjar, 44, who has been the finance director of Saatchi Gallery Group since June 2002, said the couple had several personal assistants who worked "flexible" hours for them.

Asked about their roles, 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".

'Filipino slaves'

Mr Gajjar said when the sisters were confronted over their expenses they were initially apologetic and open about their spending.

But when they were sent a formal letter outlining how they would pay off their debts they became "agitated" and claimed "We're being treated worse than Filipino slaves", the accountant told the court.

He told the jury that he suggested they continue on their current salaries but Francesca Grillo, who allegedly spent £580,000, would be expected to pay back £1,000 a month, while her sister Elisabetta would have to pay back £250 a month.

"They felt it tied them to the company for the rest of their lives," he added.

Anthony Metzer QC, representing Elisabetta, suggested to the accountant that the defendants were under the impression they could use the credit cards on themselves and the matter was a misunderstanding.

The millionaire art dealer and the celebrity chef divorced earlier this year after 10 years of marriage.

The Grillo sisters, both of Kensington Gardens Square, Bayswater, west London, deny fraudulently using company credit cards to buy luxuries, including designer clothes and first-class air travel, between 2008 and 2012.

The trial continues.

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