Bernie Ecclestone denies bribery in Germany trial

The BBC's Steve Evans says Mr Ecclestone seemed "pretty chipper"

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Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has denied bribery charges at the start of his trial in Munich.

He is accused of giving a $45m (£27.5m; 33m euros) bribe to a German banker to secure the sale of a stake in the F1 business to a company he favoured.

Mr Ecclestone admits paying Gerhard Gribkowsky, who is serving a jail sentence for receiving the payment, but has denied any wrongdoing.

He continues to run the F1 business on a day-to-day basis despite the charges.

To alleviate his workload, however, Mr Ecclestone has stood down from a number of F1-related positions until the case concludes.

As the trial began, his lawyers issued a brief statement confirming that he would fight to clear his name.

"The alleged bribery never happened. The prosecution's claims are based on statements by Dr Gribkowsky, which are wrong, misleading and not conclusive," the statement read.

Bernie Ecclestone leaves the court room during a break of his trial in Munich - 24 April 2014 Mr Ecclestone could lose his role as F1 chief if found guilty

Correspondents say that he appeared relaxed as he consulted with his lawyers before proceedings got underway.

Asked by a journalist outside the court whether he was confident of victory, he replied: "I'm confident the sun is shining."

'Breach of trust'

German prosecutors allege that he bribed Mr Gribkowsky, who was on the board of Bayern Landesbank, to ensure that F1 was sold to a private equity group of Mr Ecclestone's choice.

The allegation is that by securing the sale of the stake to a company Mr Ecclestone favoured, he would remain in charge of Formula 1 and its commercial rights, broadcast payments and sponsorship deals.

The payments were made between July 2006 and December 2007.

He admits paying Gribkowsky, but says he was effectively the victim of blackmail. The 83-year-old Briton has said the banker had been threatening to reveal false details of his tax affairs.

Mr Ecclestone listened through an interpreter as his lawyer read a lengthy statement setting out the F1 boss's version of events.

The statement went back to his childhood during World War Two and recalled German bomber raids on the town of Dartford, Kent, where he went to school.

Mr Ecclestone, who married for a third time in 2012 to a Brazilian woman more than 40 years his junior, defused some of the early tension when asked to clarify his marital status.

When asked if he was married or divorced, he at first replied "both."

"I like to remember the divorce part," he told the court.

Bernie Ecclestone (centre) arrives in court Mr Ecclestone (centre) is one of Britain's wealthiest businessmen
News media await the arrival of Bernie Ecclestone outside the Munich court The F1 chief's case has attracted worldwide media interest

If convicted, Mr Ecclestone - one of Britain's richest men who transformed Formula 1 into a lucrative sport watched by 450 million TV viewers globally - could face up to 10 years in jail.

Gerhard Gribkowsky has been found guilty of corruption, tax evasion and breach of trust and is serving an eight and a half year prison sentence.

Mr Ecclestone testified during Gribkowsky's trial in 2011, and the former German banker is expected to be the main witness during the Munich trial, which is scheduled to last until September.

In February, Mr Ecclestone won a civil case in London's High Court brought by a German media company, which claimed it lost out financially when the share of F1 belonging to German bank Bayern Landesbank was sold in 2006 to private equity group CVC.

While the High Court judge rejected a damages claim from Constantin Medien against the F1 boss, Mr Ecclestone was ordered to pay $4m (£2.4m) in legal fees.

The chief executive of Formula 1 has ruled the sport for almost four decades, turning it into a huge global commercial success.

He is the long-time commercial rights holder of F1, but sold off a majority of the ownership in the 1990s.

CVC senior management have previously said that if found guilty Mr Ecclestone would not remain in charge, even if he avoided a prison sentence.

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