The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

German court drops Ecclestone bribery trial after F1 boss agrees to make $100m payment

  • Print

Bernie Ecclestone is free to concentrate on running Formula One after a German court dropped a bribery case against him Tuesday in exchange for a $100 million payment.

After hearing more than three months of evidence, the Munich state court cited significant doubts that Ecclestone could be convicted on charges of bribery and incitement to breach of trust as it approved an agreement between his lawyers and prosecutors and closed the trial.

The charges can carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, and a conviction would have threatened Ecclestone's grip on the global racing series. The 83-year-old Englishman has continued running F1 while spending two days a week in a Munich courtroom.

"Bye-bye," Ecclestone said to reporters as he left the court, adding that he was off "to take care of Formula One."

Later, Ecclestone said he was "a bit of an idiot" for agreeing to the huge settlement as he believes he would probably have been acquitted had the trial continued.

"Anyway, it's done and finished, so it's all right," he told Britain's Press Association. "I'm contented. It's all fine. This now allows me to do what I do best, which is running F1."

The charges involved a $44 million payment to German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky, who is serving an 8 1/2-year sentence for taking the money. Gribkowsky was convicted of corruption, tax evasion and breach of trust in a trial led by the same judge who heard Ecclestone's case, Peter Noll.

Ecclestone denied wrongdoing and said Gribkowsky, who was in charge of selling German bank BayernLB's 47 per cent stake in F1 in 2005, blackmailed him.

After hearing evidence since late April, "the court did not consider a conviction overwhelmingly likely," court spokeswoman Andrea Titz said.

"There was no conclusion on guilt or innocence of the defendant," she said. "He is leaving this courtroom a free man."

Prosecutors alleged that the payment to Gribkowsky was meant to facilitate the sale of Munich-based bank Bayern LB's stake in F1 to a buyer of Ecclestone's liking. However, the court noted in Tuesday's decision that witness testimony suggested that the sale of the stake to CVC Capital Partners was "an unexpectedly profitable deal" for the bank.

Defence lawyer Sven Thomas welcomed the court's decision and said it showed that there would have been a "clear option of acquittal" had the trial continued, news agency dpa reported. The trial had been scheduled to last until at least mid-October.

The defence last week called for proceedings to be dropped, using a provision in German law that allows for prosecutors to drop a case in exchange for conditions such as a fine or community work, so long as the gravity of a possible offence is sufficiently small. The $100 million figure emerged from talks with prosecutors over recent days.

Such deals are common in Germany though they rarely involve anything near the amount Ecclestone will pay. The $100 million is believed to be a record for such a payment.

Most of the payment, $99 million, will go to the German state. The remaining $1 million will go to a German organization that helps terminally ill children. Ecclestone, who has run F1 for 40 years, has a week to pay up.

"In the end what has happened today is good and bad," Ecclestone told the Press Association. "The good is the judge more or less said I was acquitted, and they (the prosecution) really didn't have a case. So I was a bit of an idiot to do what I did to settle because it wasn't with the judge, it was with the prosecutors."

According to Forbes magazine, Ecclestone and his family are worth $4.2 billion. Noll, however, said after examining documents on his assets, that Ecclestone isn't a billionaire, dpa reported.

A former German justice minister criticized the deal as it took shape ahead of Tuesday's decision, saying that the scale of it didn't fit with the spirit of the law.

"In my eyes, there should not be negotiations in this dimension with justice," Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger told Deutschlandfunk radio Monday. "It doesn't just leave a bad taste, it is really barefaced cheek."

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Inside peek at Real Pirates, new Manitoba Museum exhibit

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Someone or thing is taking advantage of the inactivity at Kapyong Barracks,hundreds of Canada Geese-See Joe Bryksa’s goose a day for 30 days challenge- Day 15- May 22, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press. Local- Deer in Canola field near Elma, Manitoba. 060706.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Who has been the biggest disappointment on the Jets to start the season?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google