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A statement from Bernie Ecclestone

NEWS STORY
15/04/2011

Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has given Pitpass' business editor Chris Sylt a statement relating to the ongoing investigation in Germany into Gerhard Gribkowsky, former chairman of F1's parent company SLEC.

Back in January Gribkowsky was thrown into prison in Munich on suspicion of taking a $50m bribe. The Munich prosecutors claimed that Gribkowsky undervalued SLEC when it was sold by his former employer, German bank BayernLB, to current owner CVC in 2006. Moreover, the prosecutors believe that Gribkowsky received the payment of $50m for doing this. They also accused him of tax evasion since the money was paid into his account at the Raiffeisenverband bank in Austria where it was taxed at a lower rate than it would have been if he had declared it in his native Germany.

The $50m was paid from companies in Mauritius and the British Virgin Islands after CVC bought F1 and sources close to Gribkowsky have revealed that the money was paid in return for consultancy services connected to F1. However, further details have been thin on the ground and this has led various media outlets to wildly speculate that Ecclestone paid the money to get Gribkowsky to undervalue the shares.

Sylt has repeatedly debunked this theory and the very fact that no one has been arrested for paying the alleged bribe for this in itself casts doubt over it. Ecclestone and CVC have denied any involvement and an internal investigation has cleared F1's ultimate holding company Delta Topco of wrongdoing. Today the German press claims that Ecclestone is being investigated by the Munich prosecutors. Ecclestone has confirmed that he is assisting with the prosecutors and is confident that he will be cleared of any blame.

Ecclestone says "I have been cooperating with the State Prosecution Office's investigation of the affairs of Dr Gribkowsky since the outset. When I was informed that there was a first suspicion in relation to my perceived involvement in the matter, I went to see the Senior State Prosecutor and her team in Munich earlier this month to clear up any allegations against me. I will continue to give the State Prosecution Office my full cooperation in whatever capacity it may ask and I am confident that when the full facts have been established, I will be exonerated of blame for any wrongdoing."

He adds that "in view of the sensitivity of this matter, which affects others, I do not intend to make any further public comment on this matter at this time."

A report in Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper claims that Gribkowsky may have blackmailed Ecclestone to get the $50m. However, it is not a crime to be blackmailed so even if this version of events was true Ecclestone would not be to blame.

The newspaper also reports that not only has Gribkowsky's lawyer appealed against prosecutors freezing the $50m he received but he has also appealed against his imprisonment. According to the report, Gribkowsky's lawyer is confident that the tax evasion charge will be refuted and that the bribery charge too will fall. The Süddeutsche Zeitung claims that it is tough for investigators to get evidence that he was paid a bribe since all the theories involve the money being paid from outside Germany and so the country would not be the scene of a crime.

According to the report, this could see Gribkowsky soon released from prison with his $50m returned to him. This would also open the door to Gribkowsky claiming damages for his imprisonment. It would be a remarkable end to a remarkable tale.

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