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Why there is little point in questioning Ecclestone over F1's jailed banker

NEWS STORY
21/03/2011

The scandal of F1's jailed banker is proving to be one of the longest-running in the sport. The banker in question, Gerhard Gribkowsky - the former chairman of F1's holding company, has been locked up in Munich since the beginning of January and still hasn't been charged. As Pitpass has pointed out in a previous article, he could theoretically be locked up indefinitely but this doesn't stop the wheels of justice turning.

Gribkowsky was arrested on suspicion of taking a $50m kickback for allegedly undervaluing a 47.2% stake in SLEC which his former employer, German bank BayernLB, sold to F1's current owners CVC in 2006. He was arrested on suspicion of breach of trust, tax evasion and bribery yet no one has been arrested for paying a bribe.

F1's boss Bernie Ecclestone and CVC have denied paying the money to Gribkowsky and Pitpass' business editor Chris Sylt has demonstrated that Ecclestone would have had nothing to gain from the shares being undervalued. Sylt's previous reports for Pitpass also revealed overwhelming evidence that the shares were not undervalued at all. So it was surprising to read last week that, according to Sky News' business editor Mark Kleinman, prosecutors looking into the allegedly corrupt payments are expected to seek to question Ecclestone as part of their investigation.

Kleinman is the highly talented former business editor of the Sunday Telegraph, nevertheless, he has made some surprising statements prior to this one. In his original blog post about the alleged bribe he claimed it was "not clear" whether Gribkowsky is in prison. However, of course, it goes without saying that Gribkowsky is in custody and Kleinman's latest post acknowledges this.

Then came Kleinman's revelation that F1's law firm Freshfields and its accountants Ernst & Young were investigating the circumstances surrounding CVC's takeover. This story was trumpeted on the Sky News ticker and its on-screen reports covered it repeatedly.

However, as Pitpass pointed out following the revelation, the very fact that F1 is a client of the two firms suggested from the start that the investigation was going to confirm that all is well. Lo and behold, in Kleinman's latest blog he states that the investigation has "effectively given the sport's owners a clean bill of health."

So where does this leave us with the latest rumour that Ecclestone will be questioned about his involvement with the alleged bribe paid to undervalue the SLEC shares? As Pitpass has demonstrated, the shares were not undervalued and Sylt is confident that the prosecutors are well aware of this. That alone pretty much makes it a waste of time for them to question Ecclestone about the possibility that he paid to get the shares undervalued.

Another theory doing the rounds in the German media is that Gribkowsky was blackmailing Ecclestone and this is why he allegedly paid the money. If this were to be true then there could be some merit in the German prosecutors questioning Ecclestone since it could build their case against Gribkowsky. However, if this were the case, there would be no suggestion (as has been reported) that Ecclestone could be detained in Munich since although someone can be charged with committing blackmail you cannot be charged for being the victim of it.

In short, the reports are still in the realm of speculation and whilst we are on that subject one wonders who is supplying Kleinman with random details of F1 board decisions such as deciding to get Freshfields and Ernst & Young to investigate.

The board is comprised of representatives from CVC, Lehman Brothers, Ecclestone's family trust, Ecclestone himself as well as two non-executive independent directors, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the chairman of Nestlé, and Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of advertising giant WPP. Kleinman's latest blog post states that Ecclestone was unavailable for comment and CVC "has remained silent on the subject of the investigation."

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