Much of the media coverage about the allegations made in a Munich court on Wednesday by Formula One's former chairman Gerhard Gribkowsky has focussed on the implications for the sport's boss Bernie Ecclestone. Gribkowsky is on trial for allegedly receiving a £27.5m bribe to wave through the sale of F1 to its current owner, private equity firm CVC, in 2006. Ecclestone has admitted paying him but says he did so because Gribkowsky threatened to make false claims about his tax affairs to the UK's tax authority. On Wednesday Gribkowsky countered this version of events and said that, in fact, he was bribed to agree to sell to CVC.
Clearly, now that Gribkowsky has 'confessed' this makes it pretty certain that he will be found guilty. Why on earth could he have said he was bribed if he had actually blackmailed Ecclestone? Well, the sentence for blackmail could be harsher than that for bribery and, as Pitpass reported yesterday, Gribkowsky has already served nearly 18 months of jail time which will be deducted off his sentence if indeed he is found guilty of receiving a bribe.
The big question is what happens to Ecclestone if Gribkowsky is found guilty of receiving a bribe? Ecclestone is only being investigated by the German prosecutors and has not been charged with any wrong doing. However, from reading many of the media reports you could be forgiven for thinking that it would be the end for him if Gribkowsky is found guilty of receiving a bribe. The theory seems to be that since Gribkowsky has said under oath that he received a bribe it means that he will be found guilty of this and once that happens the prosecutors will press charges against Ecclestone for paying a bribe.
"Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone faces fresh allegations over £28 million 'bribe'" read one headline with others focussing just as prominently on the allegation that the payment was a bribe. After Ecclestone has gone to great pains to explain why he paid Gribkowsky it does him no favours to focus on Gribkowsky's allegations so the F1 boss has got his lawyer to set the record straight.
In a statement sent to Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt, Ecclestone's lawyer Sven Thomas, reveals that "Gribkowsky's trial and the result of it are neither binding for the investigation into Mr Ecclestone nor is the evidence established in this case usable against him." There is good reason for this.
As Thomas explains, Ecclestone has not been not a party to the case against Gribkowsky so his defence team "could not exert any influence and presented no evidence." Any of the claims which have come up in the Gribkowsky trial, including everything which Gribkowsky said in court on Wednesday, would have to be proven from scratch if charges were pressed against Ecclestone. Not only that, but the claims would also have to stand up to counter-evidence presented by Ecclestone, none of which has been seen as Thomas points out.
In summary, it is totally false to say that if Gribkowsky is found guilty of receiving a bribe this automatically means that Ecclestone will be charged with paying it. Moreover, it would not be legal for this to happen as Thomas explains. The prosecutors would have to bring a separate case against Ecclestone based on completely fresh principles and there is no evidence that this will happen. The bottom line is that Gribkowsky's statements in court affect no one but him regardless of what the media says. The full press release is as follows:
With reference to today's testimony from Dr Gribkowsky to the Munich district court Mr Ecclestone's defence explains that:
Dr Gribkowsky's trial and the result of it are neither binding for the investigation into Mr Ecclestone nor is the evidence established in this case usable against him. Mr Ecclestone's defence has not taken part in the ongoing trial, it could not exert any influence and presented no evidence. This is particularly applicable to disproving the recent views in the court about alleged agreements between Dr Gribkowsky and Mr Ecclestone.
Looking at Dr Gribkowsky's declaration from today it is clear that: The testimony was forthcoming after the court unequivocally announced a far-reaching conviction through a lot of its decisions. It is therefore not surprising that considerations which were not determined by the truth could have played a role in the content of the declaration. The defence in the investigation into Mr Ecclestone will certainly not only have to deal with the motives and the events, but also with the substance of this declaration. Its main features are contradictions as well as a lot of testimony to the contrary from Dr Gribkowsky at the beginning of the proceedings. In this context comes the advice that in various cases in recent years third parties have been incriminated in "confessions" which later - in subsequent proceedings - prove to be groundless.