Ecclestone accused of aiding and abetting a breach of trust


Further to Pitpass' exclusive statement from Bernie Ecclestone yesterday - issued to us before it was issued to anyone else - it has now been reported in the German media that the F1 boss has not just been questioned by prosecutors in Munich but he has also been accused of aiding and abetting Gribkowsky's alleged breach of trust.

On 6 April Ecclestone was questioned in the county court building on 16 Nymphenburger Straße in Munich by public prosecutor Hildegard Baumler-Hosl with her colleague Manfred Notzel also present. Their accusation of aiding and abetting a breach of trust hardly sounds like a strong claim. Indeed, according to Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, the prosecutors aren't even sure how Ecclestone may have been involved with the £30m payment to an Austrian company owned by F1's former chairman Gerhard Gribkowsky.

First we were told that Ecclestone paid £30m to Gribkowsky so that he would undervalue the shares in F1's parent company SLEC when it was sold by his employer, German bank BayernLB, to current owners CVC in 2006. Pitpass' business editor Chris Sylt has repeatedly demonstrated that this theory has no truth behind it.

The latest theory doing the rounds in the Suddeutsche Zeitung is that Ecclestone may have paid £30m to Gribkowsky in return for the German selling to a buyer which would retain the F1 boss as chef executive of the sport. Pitpass knows of no evidence for this and it seems incredibly unlikely. If a bribe had been paid to ensure that BayernLB sold to a company which retained Ecclestone you would have thought that this aspect of the deal would be hushed up. However, it was hardly kept quiet as 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." That deals with that theory too.

So what does aiding and abetting a breach of trust mean? Gribkowsky is currently in prison under suspicion of this and it is easy to see how it could apply to him - he received a payment of £30m which is clearly connected to his work yet BayernLB was not aware of it.

The Suddeutsche Zeitung claims that 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 and Gribkowsky then paid £30m of it into two tax havens which made the payment to his company in Austria.

The claim that BayernLB paid £25m to Ecclestone for arranging the deal between it and CVC could explain why the F1 boss has been accused of aiding and abetting but it doesn't seem justified since the payment would be perfectly legitimate. But what did Gribkowsky do to deserve the money?

Sources close to Gribkowsky have revealed that the £30m was paid in return for consultancy services connected to F1. The Suddeutsche Zeitung claims that the prosecutors have got hold of a draft of a consultancy contract from Ecclestone's legal adviser Stephen Mullens dated November 2005 - the month when CVC acquired F1.

According to the newspaper, one party to the contract was Bambino and the other was Gribkowsky's company in Austria. It claims that when Gribkowsky signed the contract Bambino had been replaced with the firms in the Virgin Islands and Mauritius.

It remains to be seen whether this is accurate but if it is, it would simply formalise a contract which led to payment - it would not change the fact that the £30m is believed to have ultimately come from Gribkowsky's employer (not Ecclestone) and Gribkowsky (not Ecclestone) paid it to himself. If this is true it explains why Gribkowsky's lawyer is appealing his imprisonment as Pitpass reported yesterday.

The investigations are due to continue into the summer and then it is over to Bäumler-Hösl for a decision. However, Ecclestone isn't likely to be troubled if the case hasn't been wrapped up by the German Grand Prix in July as he stated yesterday 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."

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Published: 16/04/2011
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