UK
28/11/2013 09:21 GMT | Updated 29/11/2013 04:18 GMT

Nigella Lawson And Charles Saatchi's Former Personal Assistants 'Treated Worse Than Filipino Slaves'

Nigella Lawson and her ex-husband Charles Saatchi have been accused of treating two personal assistants "worse than Filipino slaves."

The TV cook has already been described as a "habitual criminal" in court by the two sisters accused of defrauding her.

The celebrity chef was also accused of being "off her head on drugs" by her ex-husband.

Italian sisters Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo are on trial accused of using a company credit card to buy themselves designer handbags and flights while working as personal assistants to Ms Lawson and Charles Saatchi.

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Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo

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A court today heard about the alleged treatment of the women, who were described by Rahul Gajjar, finance director for wealthy art dealer Mr Saatchi, as open and apologetic about their spending spree.

But he said that after he wrote them each a letter outlining how the sisters would pay off their debt which they were expected to sign, they became "agitated".

"Lisa was against the proposal and I remember a reference to 'We're being treated worse than Filipino slaves'," Mr Gajjar, 44, told jurors at Isleworth Crown Court in west London.

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Nigella Lawson has made an empire from cookery

Mr Gajjar said Mr Saatchi and Ms Lawson, who divorced earlier this year, agreed that the sisters should continue working for them when the alleged offences came to light early last year.

He told jurors that he suggested that they continue on their current salaries with Francesca, who is alleged to have spent the largest amount on herself - £580,000 - expected to pay back £1,000 a month, and Elisabetta £250 per month.

They would also be able to live rent-free at a flat owned by Ms Lawson in Battersea, central London, the court heard.

But Mr Gajjar said the defendants reacted angrily to this.

"They were absolutely in disagreement," he said.

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

The court heard a series of text messages exchanged by Mr Gajjar and Francesca, including one where she complained her membership at private club Soho House had been cancelled.

"If they carry on doing stuff like this, I won't have any choice but to go to court," she wrote.

In another she said: "If one more small thing happens before we meet, they leave me no choice but going legal."