Bernie offers to settle bribery case

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IOL mot pic jul30 F1 Ecclestone Lawyers 1 REUTERS Bernie Ecclestone, centre, confers with his lawyers Norbert Scharf, left and Sven Thomas, right, at the regional court in Munich. Picture: Matthias Schrader

Munich, Germany - Lawyers for Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone held talks with German prosecutors on Tuesday to try to settle a bribery trial that threatens his grip on the sport.

Ecclestone, 83, went on trial in Munich in April over allegations that he bribed a former German banker as part of the sale of a major stake in the motor sport business eight years ago.

If convicted, the British billionaire could face up to 10 years in jail and would have to cede control of a business he has built up over the past four decades.

A spokesman for the German authorities said: “Public prosecutors and the defence are discussing the possibility of an agreement.”

Prosecutors have rejected a request from the defence to drop proceedings on the grounds of a lack of evidence.

Media reports said Ecclestone, who denies wrongdoing, on Tuesday offered to pay German state-owned bank BayernLB €25 million (R355 million) to help settle the case. There was no immediate comment from his defence team.

Under German law, a settlement payment to a party involved would not necessarily bring a criminal case to an end.

The court said talks on an agreement could continue, but it also scheduled a further hearing in the case for next Tuesday.

Ecclestone is required to attend every session, but hearings are held only a couple of times a week to fit in with his globe-trotting schedule as chief executive of motorsport’s premier league.

CVC DEAL

Ecclestone is accused of channelling $44 million (R467 million) to jailed BayernLB banker Gerhard Gribkowsky to smooth the sale of a major stake in the business by the bank to private equity fund CVC, which became the largest shareholder in Formula One in 2006.

The prosecution alleges that Ecclestone wanted CVC to take control because this meant he could stay on as chief executive of a business he had been instrumental in building.

Gribkowsky had been chief risk officer at state-owned bank BayernLB, which became a major shareholder in Formula One following the collapse of the Kirch media group in 2002.

Ecclestone funded the payment with a commission taken from BayernLB after the sale to CVC.

He says he paid off Gribkowsky as an “insurance policy” after the German threatened to make damaging false claims about his tax affairs.

Under German law, judges, prosecutors and the defence can agree to dismiss a case or settle it with a light punishment, although terms for such an agreement are strictly defined.

Ecclestone has previously offered to pay money back to BayernLB in 2012 to try to prevent the case from going ahead but that proposal was rejected.

Reuters



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