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.