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Bribery trial may end Bernie's reign

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AFP

File photo: Christof Stache

Formula One magnate Bernie Ecclestone faces bribery charges when his trial begins in Munich on Thursday in a case which threatens to end his reign.

The 83-year-old denies charges of bribery and abetting breach of trust in relation to a $44 million payment he made to former German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky, which was linked to the sale of Formula One's rights in 2006.

The 256-page indictment against the octogenarian billionaire leaves the impression he wanted to protect his empire at all costs.

Ecclestone has reduced his role in the running of Formula One pending the outcome of the trial and plans to be in court two days per week.

He missed Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai to prepare and Formula One's future could be determined by events in the Munich regional court room.

The complex case revolves around Formula One rights held by the German bank BayernLB and sold to Britain's CVC Capital Partners for $830 million in 2006.

Ecclestone received a $66-million commission from Gribkowsky as part of the deal, then allegedly gave him back $44 million.

Prosecutors suspect this was meant to ensure that CVC would get the rights, which would allow Ecclestone to maintain more control over Formula One business.

Ecclestone claims he paid Gribkowsky, because the German was threatening to cause trouble for the Formula One chief executive with British tax authorities.

“Right now, I'm the loser, because people are gossipping about me, without really understanding what it's about,” Ecclestone said in an interview with German broadcaster ARD.

Gribkowsky, the former chief risk officer at Bayern LB, was instrumental in selling the Bavarian bank's stake in Formula One and is alleged to have received the payments from Ecclestone and Bambino, an Ecclestone family trust.

The German was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison in 2012 after being convicted of corruption in relation to the money.

Gribkowsky is set to give evidence in Ecclestone's trial with 26 days of hearings scheduled for the case until at least the middle of September.

The Brit has denied rumours he will abort his defence midway through the trial to seek a plea bargain, telling reporters, “I'm going into this trial to prove my innocence of what I have been charged with”.

Donald Mackenzie, co-founder of CVC Funds, the sport's majority shareholder told Britain's High Court last year that Ecclestone would be fired if he was found to have committed a criminal offence.

Ecclestone faces the same judge, Peter Noll, who convicted Gribkowsky and the Briton faces a jail term if found guilty.

A controversial figure, Ecclestone rose to become Formula One's supremo having failed to make it as a driver in the 1950s.

He bought the Brabham team in 1972 and his control of the sport grew from his pioneering the sale of television rights in the late 1970s.

He had to apologise for making sexist comments about female drivers in 2005 and in 2009 drew widespread criticism for saying Adolf Hitler “had the right idea”.

AFP


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