Formula One's boss Bernie Ecclestone has had a busy week thanks to prosecutors in Munich. He was called to give evidence in the trial against F1's former chairman Gerhard Gribkowsky who has been accused of receiving a £27.5m ($44m) bribe in return for agreeing to sell a 47.2% stake in the sport to current owner CVC in 2006.
Way back in July, Pitpass had a world exclusive when Ecclestone revealed to business editor Christian Sylt that he did indeed pay Gribkowsky but it was not a bribe - it was money to stop him making false allegations to the UK tax authorities. The prosecutors got Ecclestone to go over all this old ground in front of the Munich court so it is little surprise that very little news came out of this and some outlets had to base their reports on matters of public record such as which witnesses will be in court next. Mindful of this, Sylt arranged a two hour private briefing with Ecclestone and got plenty of real news. Here is the first of it.
Ecclestone says he feared that Gribkowsky would tell the tax authorities that he was in control of his independent offshore family trust. Back in July Pitpass reported at length that Ecclestone could have faced a tax bill of billions if the trust had been derailed as a result of these kind of allegations and, lo and behold, this is exactly what he told the Munich court. No surprises there but it didn't stop some outlets claiming that this was the first time he had revealed it. We've said it before and we will say it again: you read it here first.
Another piece of news Pitpass readers will get before anyone else is that Ecclestone actually declined the opportunity to run the trust. "I'm not supposed to run the trust. It couldn't be managed in this country. If I had lived in Switzerland I could have managed the trust. There are tax laws and that's how it is," says Ecclestone.
He also implied that the prosecutors' charges may have been different if they had known at the start what they discovered from the ensuing investigation. "People start these things based on, most times, little knowledge, and it's not until it starts that people start finding problems. That's why when they start suing they get a discovery of documents. Probably if they had got the discovery before they wouldn't have started." Ecclestone adds "up to now, this case has been tried and defended by the newspapers."
Whilst we are on that subject, according to the witness calendar, Stephen Mullens, former lawyer to the trust is due to give evidence on Tuesday followed by F1's chief legal officer Sacha Woodward-Hill the Monday after. On 9 January Donald Mackenzie, one of CVC's co-founders will take to the stand as a witness and Ecclestone says "I don't think Donald knows why they want to talk to him." Most probably it will be to go over yet more old ground.