$100 Million Payment Ends Formula 1 Chief's Bribery Trial

GERMANY-AUTO-PRIX-TRIAL-CORRUPTION-ECCLESTONE
Sven Hoppe/AFP/Getty ImagesBernie Ecclestone leaves court on Tuesday.

By GEIR MOULSON

A German court on Tuesday dropped the bribery case against Bernie Ecclestone after the Formula 1 chief agreed to make a $100 million payment, ending a trial that lasted more than three months.

The Munich state court announced its decision to drop proceedings against the 83-year-old Ecclestone hours after prosecutors said they had agreed to the move. Ecclestone is now free to concentrate on running the global racing series. He went on trial in late April on charges of bribery and incitement to breach of trust, which can carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

After hearing the evidence so far, "the court did not consider a conviction overwhelmingly likely from the present point of view," court spokeswoman Andrea Titz said. With Tuesday's decision, "there was no conclusion on guilt or innocence of the defendant," she said. "He is leaving this courtroom a free man."

Banker Sentenced, Serving Time

The charges involved a $44 million payment to German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky, who is serving an 8½-year sentence for taking the money. Gribkowsky was convicted of corruption, tax evasion and breach of trust in a trial led by the same judge who heard Ecclestone's case, Peter Noll.

Ecclestone denied wrongdoing and contends that Gribkowsky, who was in charge of selling German bank BayernLB's 47 percent stake in F1 in 2005, blackmailed him. The court said it seriously doubted that bribery could be proven.

Prosecutors alleged that the payment was meant to facilitate the sale of Munich-based bank Bayern LB's stake in Formula 1 to a buyer of Ecclestone's liking. Still, the court noted in Tuesday's decision that witness testimony suggested that the sale of the stake to CVC Capital Partners was "an unexpectedly profitable deal" for the bank.

German law allows for prosecutors to agree to drop a case in exchange for conditions such as a fine or community work, so long as "the gravity of guilt" does not stand in the way. Such deals, which have to be approved by the court hearing the case, are common in Germany though they rarely involve anything close to the amount of money Ecclestone will pay. The $100 million is believed to be a record for such a payment.

What Ecclestone Went Through

Noll stressed that the size of the payment took into account the assets of the defendant, and said Ecclestone had given assurances that the $100 million represented "an appreciable portion" of his wealth without overburdening him, news agency dpa reported. According to Forbes magazine, Ecclestone and his family are worth $4.2 billion.

Of the payment, $99 million will go to the German state, and the remaining $1 million will go to a German organization that helps terminally ill children. Ecclestone has a week to pay up.

The court noted that Ecclestone faced the charges "despite his advanced age, despite his poor health" and despite the fact that the lengthy, high-profile proceedings in a foreign language were "a significant strain for him," Titz said.

Ecclestone's defense team called last week for the proceedings to be dropped, citing a lack of evidence that the Englishman was criminally responsible and asserting that the proceedings were a strain for their client. He has been running F1 while attending twice-weekly court sessions in Munich.

Ecclestone's lawyers agreed on the $100 million payment in talks with prosecutors over recent days. Prosecutor Christian Weiss said Tuesday that ending the trial would be justified in view of the long proceedings, Ecclestone's age and other extenuating circumstances.


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15 Comments

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Jef

According to Forbes he's only worth 4.2 BILLION. So it's just an expensive diinner out with some friends.

August 06 2014 at 3:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rkeeeballs

Must be nice to have a spare $100 million to make a pesky problem disappear........burp !

August 06 2014 at 8:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
avanticrzy

So now he bribed the German court system...................................

August 05 2014 at 10:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
wvalc

I hope he has enough money left to get a good barber.

August 05 2014 at 9:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
stan.mason

Can't anyone see what the German Court did? No doubt Bernie had some scheme/scam going, They just gave him a taste of his own medicine. They blackmailed him to the tune of 100 million. He walked out of there thinking... Damn they took a play out of my own playbook. This used to be called the razzledazzletwo until Bernie came along now it's called F1...hehehe :)

August 05 2014 at 5:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
pjchilds

I'm sure that put a little dent in Bernie's petty cash funds.

August 05 2014 at 3:05 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
cameltoes_david

Double standards and executive privileges work for the rich.

August 05 2014 at 2:09 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Ray Scarth

The wealthy do not go to jail, period!

August 05 2014 at 1:55 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
stevendy1

a BRIBE to stop a BRIBERY TRIAL--HOW UNIQUE CAN YOU BE...

August 05 2014 at 1:25 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to stevendy1's comment
El Flagella

my thoughts exactly

August 05 2014 at 6:43 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
stinkbug451

So he bribes his way out of a bribery trial. How nice.

August 05 2014 at 12:36 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply