• F1 boss in U.K. battle with HMRC over $1.5 billion tax bill
  • Divorce secrecy must cede to the public interest, lawyer says

Bernie Ecclestone’s lawyers lost a bid to keep financial details of his 2009 divorce out of the public domain in his 1 billion-pound ($1.53 billion) fight with British tax collectors.

Figures from the divorce settlement with Slavica Ecclestone, which includes payments to be made over a number of years, can’t be redacted in documents prepared for the lawsuit, Judge William Blair said in a London court Friday. The redactions requested "were very limited," he said.

Ecclestone is fighting Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs over the tax status of the family trust at the center of a bribery probe that threatened his role as head of the Formula One racing series.

Lawyers for the 85-year-old argued that the divorce information should remain out of the civil suit in line with an order made by a family judge, who prohibited the two parties from disclosing any financial information. Lawyers representing HMRC said that preventing the disclosure of the information was an affront to open justice.

"This is seeking to restrict public access to court documents which in the ordinary run of things" are available to the public, Tom Weisselberg, HMRC’s lawyer said in court Friday. "The conflict that exists between these two persons should give way to the greater public interest."

Friday’s hearing is the latest step in what is likely to be a lengthy legal battle over the Bambino Holdings Ltd. fund, which Ecclestone says is for the benefit of his ex-wife and daughters and is nothing to do with him. HMRC wrote to Ecclestone in December saying he had withheld information that made a 2008 agreement over the trust’s status invalid.

"The reason they have got this information in the first place is that they asked for it," Robert Miles, Bernie Ecclestone’s lawyer, said in court referring to HMRC. "They are actively trying to get this information into the public domain."

HMRC reopened its investigation of Bambino when it was revealed in a bribery trial that the trust had made a payment to a German banker who Ecclestone claimed had threatened to report him to British tax collectors. Ecclestone agreed to pay $100 million last year to settle a three-year German corruption case.

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