London - A British judge has dismissed a claim for damages brought by a German firm against Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone over his involvement in the 2005 sale of a stake in the motor racing business.
However, in an element of the ruling that is damaging to Ecclestone, Judge Guy Newey said the 83-year-old had paid a bribe to former BayernLB banker Gerhard Gribkowsky as part of a “corrupt agreement”.
“The payments were a bribe. They were made because Mr Ecclestone had entered into a corrupt agreement with Dr Gribkowsky in May 2005 under which Dr Gribkowsky was to be rewarded for facilitating the sale of BLB's shares in the Formula One group to a buyer acceptable to Mr Ecclestone,” the High Court judge wrote in his conclusions.
German company Constantin Medien EV4G.DE had alleged that one of the aims of the “corrupt bargain” was to undervalue Formula One and favour the sale of a controlling stake to private equity fund CVC - and that as a result of the undervaluation, Constantin had lost out on its rightful share of the deal.
Judge Newey said it was “no part of Mr Ecclestone's purpose” to undervalue the BayernLB stake, and therefore Constantin's claim for damages was dismissed.
Ecclestone is due to stand trial in Munich in April on charges of bribing Gribkowsky.
A Munich court in 2012 jailed Gribkowsky for tax evasion and bribery for taking a $44 million payment from Ecclestone and his family trust after the sale.
Ecclestone has repeatedly said the payment had nothing to do with the CVC deal and that he was the victim of coercion by Gribkowksy who was threatening to make false claims about his tax status.
He denies wrongdoing and says he will fight to clear his name in Germany.