Formula 1: Ecclestone to face Germany bribery charges

Bernie Ecclestone at the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix in September 2013 Ecclestone insists he was the victim of blackmail

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Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone will be tried on bribery charges, a court in the German city of Munich has ruled.

Mr Ecclestone is accused of giving a $45m (£27.5m; 33m euros) bribe to a German banker who is serving a jail sentence for receiving the payment.

The veteran F1 chief has stepped down from the board of the company which runs the sport, Delta Topco, until the case concludes.

He will continue to run the sport on a day-to-day basis.

In a statement, Delta Topco said:

"The Board believes that it is in the best interests of both the F1 business and the sport that Mr Ecclestone should continue to run the business... but subject to increased monitoring and control by the Board.

"Mr Ecclestone has agreed to these arrangements."

'Blackmail'

Bavarian prosecutors allege that the payment to Gerhard Gribkowsky was to ensure that F1 was sold to a private equity group of Mr Ecclestone's choice.

He admits paying Gribkowsky, but denies bribery, saying he was effectively the victim of blackmail.

Mr Ecclestone has been defending himself in a separate £90m ($147m) civil claim in London's High Court.

That case was brought by a German media company, Constantin Medien, which claims it lost out financially when the share of F1 belonging to German bank Bayern Landesbank was sold in 2006 to private equity group CVC.

Profile

Bernie Ecclestone before the start of the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix on November 24, 2013 in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Full name: Bernard Charles Ecclestone

Born: 28 October 1930, St Peters, Suffolk, Great Britain

Net worth: US$3.8bn (£2.5bn)

Mr Ecclestone and Gribkowsky, who was on the board of Bayern Landesbank, were accused in court of conspiring to deliberately undervalue F1 when it was sold, in order that Mr Ecclestone would retain control of the sport.

The 83-year-old F1 boss has said that he made the payment because the banker had been threatening to reveal false details of his tax affairs.

'Consultancy contracts'

A statement from Bavaria's district court said that a date for the criminal trial had not yet been set, but that proceedings were likely to begin in late April.

Mr Ecclestone is charged with bribery and incitement to breach of trust and will be obliged to appear at his trial.

The court statement says that the payments made to Gribkowsky were dressed up as consultancy contracts, and that both their source and their destination were obscured using corporate structures.

The payments were made between July 2006 and December 2007, it says.

Mr Ecclestone's German lawyer said on Thursday that the alleged bribery never took place.

The chief executive of F1 has ruled the sport for almost four decades. He is the long-time commercial rights holder of F1, but sold off a majority of the ownership in the 1990s.

This picture taken on November 10, 2011 shows Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone leaving the court in Munich, southern Germany Bernie Ecclestone appeared as a witness at Gerhard Gribkowsky's trial in Munich in 2011

In an interview with German financial newspaper Handelsblatt (in German), published on Thursday before the confirmation of his upcoming trial, Mr Ecclestone said he wanted to clear his name, which is why he had not reached an out-of-court settlement with either Constantin Medien or Bayern Landesbank.

He said it would have been better not to have made the payment to Gribkowsky, even if the banker had then triggered an investigation by the British tax authorities.

Asked if he would step down if the High Court judgement in the Constantin civil case went against him, he said there was absolutely no need for that.

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