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'Bet you it doesn't happen': Ecclestone hopeful bribery case collapses before April start

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LONDON - Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone is still expecting his bribery case in Germany to be thrown out before the trial starts.

The 83-year-old Ecclestone is facing charges of bribery and incitement to breach of trust connected with a $45 million payment to a German banker, Gerhard Gribkowsky. And the Munich regional court on Friday announced that the trial will begin on April 24 and is set to run until Sept. 16.

But asked later Friday if he was concerned about the impending trial, Ecclestone responded: "Bet you it doesn't happen ... things happen in life and you have to get on with it."

Bribery convictions can result in prison sentences ranging from three months to 10 years in Germany. Ecclestone, who has denied the charges, was backed again Friday by the man he has anointed as his successor: Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.

"Formula One needs him more than ever at the moment," Horner said of the sport's long-time commercial chief. "So he's absolutely the right man."

Both Ecclestone and Horner were speaking at a charity auction of F1 photographs taken by drivers and team principals, raising money for a children's hospital.

Ecclestone is heading into the new season, which begins next month in Melbourne, with a diluted role in the world's premier motor sport series. Although Ecclestone will continue to run F1 on a day-to-day basis, he has been forced to step down from the sport's board while the criminal case is ongoing.

Ecclestone is also awaiting the outcome of separate London legal proceedings also relating to the sale of F1 in 2005. Former F1 shareholder Constantin Medien, a German media company, is suing Ecclestone and other defendants for up to $144 million, claiming F1 was undervalued at the time of the sale to investment group CVC Capital Partners.

Gribkowsky, the banker who was in charge of selling German bank BayernLB's 47 per cent stake in F1 to CVC, has already been found guilty of corruption, tax evasion and breach of trust and is serving a 8 1/2-year prison sentence. Ecclestone acknowledged during Gribkowsky's trial that he made the payment to avoid being reported by the banker to authorities over his tax affairs.

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Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.

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