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Ecclestone says F1 may get a chairman after all

NEWS STORY
05/04/2011

The saga of jailed German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky continues to rumble on behind the scenes in F1. To recap, Gribkowsky was the chairman of F1's former holding company SLEC and he was arrested in January on suspicion of taking a $50m bribe for undervaluing it when his former employer, German bank BayernLB, sold its shares in it to finance firm CVC in 2006.

F1's boss Bernie Ecclestone and CVC have denied any involvement with this and an internal investigation has cleared F1's current holding company Delta Topco of wrongdoing.

However, last month it was reported that CVC had spoken to Sir Stuart Rose, the former boss of Marks & Spencer, about becoming non-executive chairman of Delta Topco in order to boost its credibility in preparation for a sale. On Monday last week the venerable Times newspaper reported that CVC has quietly dropped plans to hire an independent chairman and it added that CVC founder Donald McKenzie allegedly decided to drop the plan several weeks ago. Not according to Ecclestone.

Speaking to Pitpass' business editor Chris Sylt, Ecclestone said "we will probably bring the chairman up again at a board meeting." He quashed the rumours about a chairman being hired to bring credibility in preparation for a sale and explained that "Gribkowsky is off the board and he was just a non-exec so we said why don't you put a non exec on. We haven't got a chairman."

Nevertheless this doesn't mean to say that F1 will get a chairman. Ecclestone said that it is irrelevant to him whether or not one is appointed since "I am the chief executive. I will do what I continue to do."

Meanwhile, in Germany, prosecutors are trying to freeze Gribkowsky's assets due to the suspicions that his $50m was not earned legitimately. During a hearing last week it was suggested that Ecclestone may have paid the money to Gribkowsky in return for the German selling to a buyer which would retain the F1 boss as chef executive of the sport.

It is hardly a new concept that it was crucial to the negotiations for Ecclestone to stay on as chief executive. Indeed F1 company documents seen by Sylt state that "key to structuring the transaction was allowing Bernie Ecclestone to retain operating control to continue growing the business." However, there is no evidence whatsoever that Ecclestone paid anyone over this. Indeed, the court described the claim as "woolly."

It seems like we are still a long way off from this saga being wrapped up.

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