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Gribkowsky decision due

NEWS STORY
05/07/2011

For the past five months Gerhard Gribkowsky, the former chairman of F1's former parent company SLEC, has been languishing in a jail in Munich. Gribkowsky has been accused of receiving £30m for allegedly undervaluing a 47.2% stake in SLEC which his former employer, German bank BayernLB, sold to its current owner CVC in 2006. Although there are accusations against him, Gribkowsky has not been formally charged and it is understood that prosecutors have until today to do this. They will present their findings to the Munich court which must then decide whether it is justified to keep him in jail.

Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt has debunked at length the idea that SLEC was undervalued but this didn't stop the German media inventing even more outlandish reasons as to why Gribkowsky may have received the money. Most of these spurious theories centre on F1's boss Bernie Ecclestone paying the money to Gribkowsky though there is no evidence for this.

It has been suggested that Gribkowsky received the money for agreeing to sell SLEC to CVC since it wanted Ecclestone to remain F1's boss. Sylt debunked this. It was even suggested that Gribkowsky may have blackmailed Ecclestone with knowledge he gained whilst working in F1. This too was debunked when it was alleged that the information Gribkowsky threatened to take to authorities was a one-page spreadsheet with facts about F1 companies which were already in the public domain.

What may make more sense is the allegation that in fact, the board of BayernLB is to blame for ultimately paying the £30m. The reputation of the BayernLB board of directors who worked alongside Gribkowsky does not seem to be whiter than white. The bank is currently suing eight of them and seeking damages of around £180m over a disastrous investment they made in real estate lender Hypo Group. It had to be nationalised in late 2009 and the episode ended up costing BayernLB £3.3bn. Indeed it was a major contributor to BayernLB having to be bailed out itself with billions of euros in German taxpayers' money.

How could the BayernLB board ultimately be responsible for the payment to Gribkowsky? This theory goes as follows: CVC paid BayernLB £472m for its shares in SLEC and then the bank paid £25m of this to Ecclestone personally with £17m going to Ecclestone's family trust company Bambino Holdings. The £25m was allegedly paid to Ecclestone since he was the middle man in the deal. Apparently the money was then paid by Ecclestone and Bambino into F1-related companies before Gribkowsky paid £30m of it into two tax havens. They then made the payment to Gribkowsky's company in Austria and he claimed he received the money for consultancy services to Ecclestone - something which the F1 boss has reportedly denied in his evidence to the Munich prosecutors.

The claim that BayernLB paid £25m to Ecclestone for arranging the deal between it and CVC could explain why, as Pitpass has exclusively revealed, Ecclestone has been accused of, and is expected to be charged today with, aiding and abetting. Gribkowsky is expected to be charged with at least tax evasion since he paid the £30m into an account in Austria rather than in his native Germany where it would have been taxed at a higher rate.

No doubt some media outlets may declare that takeover bids of F1 will have to be put on hold pending the result of a charge against Ecclestone but, if so, that would simply be an excuse to cover up the fact that they are nothing but phantom bids. The reality is that a charge of aiding and abetting certainly does not sound justified at all since Ecclestone's role in the payment transaction would be perfectly legitimate. In short, there is no way Ecclestone would lose any sleep over it. Likewise, as Pitpass has reported, if Ecclestone really was blackmailed by Gribkowsky, he also has no cause for concern in Germany. This is because he would be the victim of a crime since blackmail is illegal.

It is worth noting that Gribkowsky himself has reportedly come up with all sorts of theories to add into the mix including the idea that Ecclestone allegedly offered him an additional £20m if he moved to Singapore and the total of £50m was paid into an account there. Apparently Gribkowsky declined as he did not want to commit tax evasion. Of course this conflicts with the fact that Gribkowsky would not have committed tax evasion if he had been based in Singapore and in fact, the prosecutors have alleged that he committed tax evasion by paying the money into Austria anyway. One would have thought that if he was really concerned about tax evasion he would have paid the money into Germany where he was based.

It is also worth noting that Gribkowsky's lawyer had filed an appeal against his arrest but last month this was withdrawn. It gives an air of inevitability to the proceedings and it seems we won't have to wait long to find out whether this is in any way indicative of his eventual fate.

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