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Yesterday, Pitpass filled in the gaps in an article from the Financial Times in which the chief financial officer of German bank BayernLB confirmed that its shares in Formula One were not sold at a value below its expectation when current owner CVC bought them in 2006.
Although this was not explained in the FT's article, it is significant because F1's boss Bernie Ecclestone has been accused of paying a £27m bribe to BayernLB's former risk manager Gerhard Gribkowsky to get him to undervalue its shares in the sport. Clearly if BayernLB says the shares were not undervalued Ecclestone cannot have paid a bribe to undervalue them. Likewise, Gribkowsky cannot have paid the bribe for undervaluing them which is what Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt has been telling readers of this website ever since the German banker was arrested in January.
This leads us nicely into a report on Bloomberg which claims that Gribkowsky's lawyer Rainer Bruessow has asked the German court to drop the case against his client because the suspicions against him "are constructed and very far-fetched." He explains that the evidence cited in the indictment doesn't sustain the charges and "Munich prosecutors didn't comply with the necessary diligence and responsibility a German investigative authority needs to adhere to."
Bruessow says that this stems from the fact that the prosecutors didn't look at what is known as exculpatory evidence when charging Gribkowsky in July. In short, exculpatory evidence is that which is favourable to the defendant in a criminal trial and it tends the clear the defendant of guilt so it is easy to see how significant it could be for Gribkowsky. Naturally, Barbara Stockinger, a spokeswoman for prosecutors in Munich, has said that allegations that the office didn't thoroughly investigate the case are "totally unfounded."
Regardless of Bruessow's claim, as Pitpass has reported, the quotes from BayernLB's chief financial officer render absurd the reports of investors in CVC being concerned about the lack of communication from the company about the alleged bribe. Given that BayernLB does not believe its F1 shares were sold at a price below expectations, there can not have been a bribe paid to undervalue them so there was nothing for CVC to communicate.
Those media outlets which have repeated the investors' accusations would now seem to have egg on their faces and if the bribery charges against Gribkowsky (as well as the accusation against Ecclestone) are dropped, they will have to make one heck of a mea culpa.
The case against Gribkowsky fell to pieces when Sylt revealed last month the explanation for the £27m payment to Gribkowsky. Instead of being a bribe to undervalue F1, Ecclestone paid the money to Gribkowsky to stop him making unfounded allegations to the UK tax authorities about his relationship with his family trust Bambino.
Sylt has been investigating the relationship between Ecclestone and Gribkowsky since the German became involved with F1 in 2002 and he met the German banker several times during his legal case against Bambino in 2004. Sylt says that Ecclestone's reason for payment makes perfect sense and fits precisely in to the chronology of events but it doesn't mean to say that Gribkowsky will get off completely.
Gribkowsky paid the £27m into an account in Austria where it accrued tax at a lower rate than it would if he had paid it into a bank in his native Germany. This is why Gribkowsky has also been charged with tax evasion and, as Sylt has previously reported on Pitpass, it isn't likely that he will be able to shake off this charge so easily.
In fact, the one question remaining in this entire affair is why Gribkowsky, who was a lawyer before becoming a banker, paid the money into Austria knowing full well that it would be taxed at a lower rate than in Germany. Gribkowsky did not even try to hide it as one of the companies, GG Consulting, in the Austrian empire which received the money, bears his initials. Mysteriously hinting at a third party, Ecclestone told Sylt in March that Gribkowsky "probably thought it was all legal and straightforward. He set the company up in Austria otherwise he wouldn't have put the money in and when he set it up he must have set it up on advice."
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