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Bernie: Bribery no, blackmail yes!

2013-05-16 09:13

NO BRIBERY, JUST BLACKMAIL: Bernie Ecclestone appears before a German court on charges of bribery. Image – AFP

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FRANKFURT, Germany - Lawyers for Formula 1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone reiterated that he had not bribed a German banker during the 2005/6 sale of a stake in the motor racing business.

A newspaper reported Ecclestone was charged by prosecutors.

Prosecutors in Munich completed its investigation and German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that they had charged the Ecclestone with bribery and inciting others into a fiduciary breach of trust.

'NOT COMMITTED BRIBERY'

German law firm Thomas Deckers Wehnert Elsner, acting for Ecclestone, said: "The documents with the charges from the Munich prosecutor's office have not yet been received by the defence so we cannot provide a statement.

"The defence sticks to its view that Ecclestone has neither committed bribery nor played any part in committing a fiduciary breach of trust."

The Munich prosecutor's office declined to comment on the Sueddeutsche Zeitung report. In May 2013 it said it had finished its investigation but declined to comment on what it might do next.

Under German law, once a preliminary investigation has been completed prosecutors need to decide whether to press ahead with charges or drop the matter. Prosecutors can also drop the proceedings in exchange for a "non-penal payment".

At issue is whether Ecclestone bribed a German banker in a business deal in which lender BayernLB sold a 48% stake in a Formula One holding company to CVC, a private-equity investor which Ecclestone was keen to see as a new shareholder.

Ecclestone made payments to Gerhard Gribkowsky, BayernLB's former chief risk officer, who has since been jailed for tax evasion. BayernLB had ended up with the Formula One stake after the bankruptcy of the media empire of Leo Kirch.

In June 2012 Ecclestone denied the payments to Gribkowsky amounted to bribes. Instead, he told a Munich court in November 2011 that he paid Gribkowsky to "keep him quiet" after the German put him under pressure over his tax affairs and not to smooth the sale to CVC.

CVC owned a 63% stake in Formula One but has since cut that to around 35% through a series of deals.

Ecclestone told Reuters in April 2013 that the company behind Formula One could be floated in Singapore at the end of 2014.

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