F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone pays to end bribery trial

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Media caption,

Bernie Ecclestone tells waiting reporters "I'm going to take care of Formula 1"

A German court has agreed to end the bribery trial of Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone in exchange for a $100m (£60m) payment from him.

Mr Ecclestone's offer was based on an existing provision in German law.

Earlier on Tuesday German prosecutors accepted the offer from the 83-year-old billionaire who dominates motor racing.

He went on trial in April, accused of paying a German banker 33m euros (£26m; $44m) to ensure that a company he favoured could buy a stake in F1.

He denies wrongdoing.

The ruling means he walks free from the district court in Munich and can continue running the sport. It also means Mr Ecclestone is found neither guilty nor innocent.

His personal wealth is put at $4.2bn by Forbes, which ranks him as the 12th richest UK billionaire.

If found guilty, he could have faced a 10-year jail term and the end of his decades-long dominance of motor racing.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Gerhard Gribkowsky, seen here at the start of his trial in October 2011, is now serving a prison sentence

A BayernLB banker, Gerhard Gribkowsky, was allegedly paid by Mr Ecclestone to ensure the F1 stake was bought by a company that he favoured, so that he would remain in charge of the sport.

Gribkowsky was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison in 2012 for accepting bribes.

Mr Ecclestone says the payment was given to Gribkowsky after the banker threatened to make false claims about the F1 boss's tax status.

Prosecutors said Mr Ecclestone's advanced age and other mitigating circumstances gave grounds to accept the $100m offer.

'That's do-able'

Mr Ecclestone has attended most of the hearings in person and arrived at the courthouse on Tuesday in a limousine, looking relaxed and accompanied by his wife, Fabiana Flosi.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Bernie Ecclestone in a court lift in Munich on Tuesday
Image source, Getty Images
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Bernie Ecclestone (right) with lawyers Norbert Scharf (L) and Sven Thomas
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Bernie Ecclestone has dominated the F1 business for decades

Asked by Judge Peter Noll if he could raise the $100m, Mr Ecclestone replied "yes". When asked if the payment could be made within a week, his defence lawyer, Sven Thomas, said: "That's do-able."

Judge Noll ruled that $99m would go to the Bavarian state coffers while $1m would be donated to a children's hospital. The sum is believed to be a record for such a payment.

Court spokesperson Andrea Titz said Mr Ecclestone: "The court did not consider a conviction overwhelmingly likely from the present point of view.

"With this type of ending... there is no ruling on guilt or innocence of the defendant."

'Really insolent'

Under German law defendants can in certain circumstances "buy" termination of a trial.

The legal proviso exists in order to ease the burden on the courts and to deal with cases where reaching a judgment could prove difficult.

However a lawyer quoted by the Spiegelonline website, Franz Bielefeld, said it was unusual for the clause to be invoked in mid-trial - more often it is done before a trial starts.

Former Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, of the Liberal FDP party, criticised use of the loophole in the Ecclestone case, saying it was "not just bad taste - it's really insolent".

She said it allowed rich people to go free, whereas the less well-heeled could face prison.