Belfast Telegraph

Saatchi evidence 'career suicide'

A former financial assistant to Charles Saatchi has told a court that giving evidence against the multi-millionaire was "essentially blackmarking" herself from working in the art world again.

Testifying in the trial of two former personal assistants of art dealer Saatchi and his then-wife Nigella Lawson, Sharrine Scholtz said the couple allowed staff to spend company money on designer goods, beauty treatments and leisure classes.

Ms Scholtz, who worked under Saatchi's finance director Rahul Gajjar for four-and-a-half years until 2009, spoke of the stress connected with her job, having to work 19-hour days before signing a compromise agreement and agreeing to "go quietly".

Prosecutor Jane Carpenter claimed Ms Scholtz, who set up an art gallery while still employed by Saatchi, was in court to assist sisters Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo, who deny fraud.

But Ms Scholtz replied: "I have everything to lose by standing up here and nothing to gain."

She said she was "committing career suicide by speaking up" and insisted: "I'm here to speak the truth."

Asked by Anthony Metzer QC, defending Elisabetta, to elaborate on the comment, Ms Scholtz, 29, said: "Anybody who speaks up against the Saatchi gallery is essentially blackmarking themselves from working anywhere in the art world."

Ms Scholtz, who broke down in the dock as she recalled working for Saatchi's Conarco company until she received a sizeable payout to leave, said her role was to log entries relating to company credit card spending by Saatchi's and Nigella's personal assistants, including the Grillo sisters.

The defendants, of Italian descent, are on trial at Isleworth Crown Court, west London, accused of spending £685,000 on credit cards belonging to the celebrity couple to buy designer goods and luxury holidays.

Elisabetta, 41, and her 35-year-old sister, both of Kensington Gardens Square, Bayswater, west London, each deny a single count of committing fraud by using a company credit card for personal gain between January 1 2008 and December 31 last year.

Ms Scholtz said expenses were filed under several types, including "entertainment" and "staff welfare".

Asked by Mr Metzer to elaborate on the credit card expenditure which Ms Scholtz was required to scrutinise, she said: "Entertainment was for restaurants, as far as I can remember, tickets perhaps to events and shows.

"Staff welfare - I cannot really remember what I posted under that. I suppose it would be clothes and things like that.

"(Beauty treatments) would probably go under staff welfare too."

Ms Scholtz, who was 20 when she started working for Saatchi, told the court she "was not aware" of every time staff were allowed to put personal expenses on the company account.

She also said there was no way to tell what was business and what was personal expenditure on the cards.

Under cross-examination from prosecutor Ms Carpenter, Ms Scholtz said: "It wasn't up to me to differentiate between business and personal. I was taught to categorise and put it through."

Asked by Mr Metzer if members of staff were able to spend on designer goods, Ms Scholtz said: "As far as I was aware, they were authorised by Nigella and Saatchi. It would come under staff welfare."

When he asked if she thought there would be "consequences" if she did not sign the compromise agreement, Ms Scholtz replied: "Perhaps I would have been sat there instead of Francesca and Elisabetta."

Asked by Mr Metzer about working conditions at the company, Ms Scholtz said if Saatchi wanted something doing, he wanted it doing "yesterday", causing laughter from the public and press galleries.


From Belfast Telegraph