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Ecclestone says prosecutors approached him about settling bribery trial

NEWS STORY
05/08/2014

Bernie Ecclestone has revealed that German prosecutors approached him about settling his bribery trial in Germany and not vice versa as has been widely speculated. The brakes are expected to be put on the trial today as Ecclestone's lawyer Sven Thomas says that the F1 boss will pay a £60m ($100m) settlement according to an article in the Independent by Christian Sylt.

It would be the largest settlement in German legal history and is to be handed to the state of Bavaria according to Thomas. He told the Independent that he will today ask the court to use the money to build a new F1 circuit in the state.

"It seems that we will be successful in the settlement," says Thomas. "The amount is not confidential. They are talking about $100 million." He says that a press release about this will be issued this morning and adds that "the 100 million is for the state of Bavaria. Maybe they will try and build a circuit. I will propose this - that they should build a nice circuit."

If the court agrees to this the German Grand Prix isn't likely to benefit because it takes place at the Nurburgring and Hockenheim which are not in Bavaria.

Thomas says that the outcome of the trial "is a settlement without any conviction, the presumption of innocence is still valid. That was a condition under which I negotiated." It means that Ecclestone is not at risk of being removed from his job by F1's controlling shareholder, the private equity firm CVC. In November CVC's co-founder Donald Mackenzie said "if it is proven that Mr Ecclestone has done anything that is criminally wrong, we would fire him."

Thomas says that the settlement will prevent this from ever being a threat to Ecclestone in future. "It puts an end to trial for all times. No one can try with this case once again. It is binding like a sentence which can't be appealed," he says.

Under German law, prosecutors can withdraw charges during criminal trials if all parties agree to the payment of a sum of money to a charity or the treasury.

The bribery charges stem from a £27m ($44m) payment made by Ecclestone and his Bambino family trust to Gerhard Gribkowsky, former chief risk officer of German bank BayernLB. German prosecutors believed that the payment was a bribe to steer the sale of BayernLB's controlling stake in F1 to the investment fund CVC in 2006. Ecclestone denies bribery and says he paid Gribkowsky to stop him carrying out insinuations that he would make unfounded allegations about his tax affairs.

Last week Thomas said in court that although the allegations against Ecclestone are "highly questionable," the 83-year-old wants to end the case as it has become "extremely burdensome." Thomas told the Independent that a settlement "takes away the risks and is a kind of acquittal which otherwise would take the next three, four or five months. There will always be a remaining risk. Defence means to mitigate the risks step by step. That's defence."

Ecclestone added that the settlement is "nothing to do" with his position as F1's boss and he says that he did not initiate the talks about settling. "The prosecutors said ‘do we want to have a chat about it?' That is what started it. We didn't ask them, they asked us."

In June Pitpass revealed that Ecclestone had tried to settle before the trial began but his offer had been rejected. Circumstances have changed since then as the trial has not yielded the smoking gun that was expected.

When the hearings began in April it was thought that Gribkowsky would be the star witness and would give incriminating evidence against Ecclestone. This is because in June 2012 Gribkowsky confessed that the £27m payment was a bribe to smooth the sale to CVC.

However, as Pitpass reported, during Gribkowsky's testimony in May he was asked again why he received the payment and he responded "I never asked myself that question. I'm still annoyed with myself for that today." It clearly irritated the judge Peter Noll who said "it's hard for me to comprehend [what went on] if you are unable to say more precisely how it came about." It is a question which may now never be answered in court.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by TokyoAussie, 07/08/2014 1:15

"2nd comment:

Justice doesn't come cheap. In fact, it can make a profit!"

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2. Posted by 70sfan, 06/08/2014 23:43

"Bernie has shown pigs do fly and he must know even Pitpass's past attempts to show him an innocent were about as plausible as the plot on a batman film from the 1960's. Still why spoil a good story.

Still now we know how it works. lend us a couple of mill Bernie or else I go to the pensions office.

BTW the offer from Bernie before the trial was a little smaller than this latest bung.

"

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3. Posted by Spindoctor, 06/08/2014 13:15

"Although "St." Bernie seems to believe that it's "Business as Usual" I'm not that sure. As has been said before; Bernie has had access to the "best Justice money can buy" in two jurisdictions now, and on neither occasion has his "acquittal" been very convincing.

F1 is now failing in many areas, especially global audience numbers. Even without the reputational damage of these legal shenanigans you have to wonder how long the CEO can continue in post. As we have seen recently in the case of Tesco, past record doesn't help much when the profits start to fall....."

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4. Posted by nealio, 05/08/2014 21:14

"Interesting price tag on justice in Bavaria."

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5. Posted by xoanon, 05/08/2014 20:53

"Gerhard Gribkowsky blackmailed Mr.E, and now the prosecutors approach Mr.E and 'offer' him a deal. which looks like the banks and the state blackmailing him again ... A case of give us cash or you're going down."

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6. Posted by bouncyt, 05/08/2014 20:07

"Well that is clear then, man accused of paying $44m bribe pays $100m to have the charges dropped. "Bribery is an act of giving money or gift giving that alters the behaviour of the recipient."
Has the behaviour of the German courts altered? I think it may well have done so as a result of the payment.
Should that man be truly innocent of bribery surely he would have wanted to fight the case to the end to clear his name."

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7. Posted by bfairey, 05/08/2014 18:04

"As I have said many times before this is entertainment and as entertainment anything goes."

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8. Posted by TokyoAussie, 05/08/2014 17:11

"German justice has an out for the super rich? Well, that sounds fair. And it's only fitting that a person claiming to be innocent would choose that option. McLaren copped a $100 million fine once, and some called it a slap on the wrist. Bernie, apparently worth 4-something billion (or was that in pounds), won't notice 100 million missing from his account, or fob pocket, or petty cash. Very petty cash. He'd give that to one of his daughters for shopping money. Perhaps one of them should build a racing circuit in Germany instead. "

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9. Posted by Ro, 05/08/2014 16:12

"For someone who has such a disgusting amount of money, $100m is a paltry sum, disgusting little man"

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10. Posted by Zeroboost, 05/08/2014 15:07

"Yes, but that is not the same as saying that there was NO smoking gun. Why pay £60 million if the trial was going to go in your favour anyway?"

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11. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 05/08/2014 14:02

"To NextDoor - your question is answered in this article:

"Circumstances have changed since then as the trial has not yielded the smoking gun that was expected."

That is why the prosecutors made the approach to settle."

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12. Posted by NextDoor, 05/08/2014 12:37

"Hmm....

How does the claim made in the first sentence:

'Bernie Ecclestone has revealed that German prosecutors approached him about settling his bribery trial in Germany and not vice versa as has been widely speculated.'

fit with the statement later in the the article:

'In June Pitpass revealed that Ecclestone had tried to settle before the trial began'?

Could Mr Sylt explain the apparent contradiction? Or does Ecclestone claim that the prosecution approached him with the offer of a settlement *before* the trial and why didn't he accept it then?
"

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13. Posted by Zeroboost, 05/08/2014 11:00

"Money, money, money. "

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