UK & World News

  • 17 December 2013, 2:15

Saatchi 'Stopped Nigella Working Abroad'

Celebrity cook Nigella Lawson was stopped from working abroad by Charles Saatchi, their former personal assistant has told a court.

Ms Lawson appeared on an American television programme this year but kept putting off an earlier offer to work in the US because her then-husband did not approve, the jury was told by Francesca Grillo, 35.

The 35-year-old said Ms Lawson would often confide in her about her job, her husband and her desire to break America.

"Charles didn't like the idea of her being away for too long," she said.

"She's a very social woman. She likes people. She is a people person and Charles is quite opposite.

"Many, many occasions she had to turn down things, going out, because Charles didn't approve."

When Grillo was asked by a defence lawyer if Ms Lawson was happy, she replied: "I think in general, no. In her relationship no."

Grillo described her relationship with Mr Saatchi and Ms Lawson, who divorced earlier this year, as being as close as family.

Elisabetta, 41, and Francesca Grillo, are accused of spending 685,000 on credit cards belonging to the celebrity couple to buy designer goods and luxury holidays.

They 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.

Francesca Grillo told Isleworth Crown Court she was handed a bank card in her name upon first being employed by the celebrity couple more than a decade ago.

The simple instruction was to withdraw her 300 a week wages and to buy anything she, Mr Saatchi, Ms Lawson or her children needed.

She said: "I would live in the annex of the house. I was told to buy whatever I wanted with that card.

"I have never had a contract of employment. That arrangement lasted for four years until I was put on the payroll.

"I was never given strict rules. Charles just said 'There is your card'."

Grillo also said the card was used to furnish her new accommodation in the annex of Mr Saatchi's house, as well as pay for essentials such as groceries.

Former financial assistant Sharine Scholtz, 29, who worked under Mr Saatchi's finance director until 2009, was in court to assist the Italian sisters.

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

"Anybody who speaks up against the Saatchi gallery is essentially blackmarking themselves from working anywhere in the art world," she said.

She added: "I have everything to lose by standing up here and nothing to gain."

Ms Scholtz said the couple allowed staff to spend company money on designer goods, beauty treatments and leisure classes.

She worked for Mr Saatchi for four-and-a-half years until 2009 when she signed a compromise agreement, agreeing to "go quietly".

When 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."

She also spoke of the stress connected with her job, saying she had to work 19-hour days sometimes.

Ms Scholtz, who was 20 when she started working for Mr 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 the prosecutor, Ms Scholtz said: "It wasn't up to me to differentiate between business and personal. I was taught to categorise and put it through."

"As far as I was aware, they were authorised by Nigella and Saatchi. It would come under staff welfare."

:: Watch Sky News live on television, on Sky channel 501, Virgin Media channel 602, Freeview channel 82 and Freesat channel 202.