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German paper names source of payment to jailed banker and no, it's not Bernie

NEWS STORY
12/02/2011

It sounds like the start to a bad joke: have you heard the one about the English billionaire, the German banker and the money from Mauritius? If you read the German newspapers then you most probably have heard it in great detail.

Yes, there is another revelation in the German media today about Gerhard Gribkowsky, the former chairman of SLEC, the company which owns the commercial rights to Formula One. Since 5 January Gribkowsky has been twiddling his thumbs in a Munich prison after being arrested on suspicion of receiving a $50m bribe for undervaluing shares in SLEC which his former employer, German bank BayernLB, sold to finance firm CVC in 2005. However, despite it being just as illegal to give a bribe as to receive one, no one has yet been arrested for paying it.

Right from the outset of the scandal the media has been rife with rumours that F1's boss Bernie Ecclestone paid the bribe for undervaluing the shares. However as Pitpass' business editor Chris Sylt has repeatedly reported, this is as good as impossible. Ecclestone simply would have had nothing to gain from the shares being undervalued since he did not buy them. So if the money was paid then who is the ultimate source of it? One German newspaper thinks it knows the answer.

For the past five weeks the Munich prosecutor has been tracing the source of the $50m which was apparently paid from Mauritius and the British Virgin Islands into the account of Gribkowsky's company in Austria. According to one German newspaper the money came from Bayern itself. And it isn't basing this claim on some unknown source, instead it says that the details come directly from Bayern's records which have been given to the prosecutor.

The report alleges that Bayern paid $40m to Ecclestone and $27m to Bambino Holdings, the investment company of his family trust. It adds that the bank suspects Ecclestone then paid $50m to Gribkowsky from this. Clearly it is completely impossible that this could have been a bribe for Gribkowsky undervaluing Bayern's shares since the bank had nothing to gain from this. But why could Gribkowsky have got the money? The newspaper says it has the answer.

Its report alleges that Bambino was a party to a consultancy contract drafted in November 2005 for Gribkowksy and when the payments were made to him 2006 and 2007 they came from the companies in Mauritius and the British Virgin Islands.

Ecclestone has denied that he paid any money to Gribkowsky so the report could be false. However, if it is accurate, it is further proof of what Pitpass has been saying for weeks - that the allegations that Ecclestone bribed Gribkowsky for undervaluing the shares are completely false. If Bayern was the source of the money then a bribe couldn't have been paid for undervaluing the shares and the bank would be ultimately responsible for the payment.

According to the report, several ex-members of Bayern's supervisory board have claimed that they were not informed about the payment to Ecclestone because the bank's former management concealed it. Whether they concealed a payment from the supervisory board or not, the management was in charge of the bank and knew what they were doing so they would be ultimately responsible for it. If in fact they did conceal the payment it could suggest that they knew full well about the destination of the payment which points the finger further at the bank's management.

If they paid the money then it couldn't have been a bribe for their shares being undervalued and, contrary to the reckless speculation of some writers it demonstrates that Ecclestone was not involved with such a transaction. Bayern is Germany's second largest state-owned bank so if Munich's state prosecutor concludes that it paid the money to Gribkowsky then it would be highly ironic, even by F1's standards.

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