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Bernie 'driver' in F1 fraud

2012-06-28 06:29

Munich/London - A judge jailed a German banker for more than eight years on Wednesday for taking $44-million in bribes during the sale of Formula 1 in a case that centred on a payment from Bernie Ecclestone, the motor sport's commercial chief.

Presiding judge Peter Noll convicted BayernLB's former chief risk officer Gerhard Gribkowsky for tax evasion, bribery and breach of fiduciary trust in a court in Munich.

Noll described billionaire Ecclestone as "the driving force" behind the payments but said Gribkowsky, in turn, had shown "high criminal energy".

JOB OFFER

Gribkowsky was arrested in January 2011 after the sale of BayernLB's 48% stake in Formula 1 to UK investor CVC which F1 chief Ecclestone was keen to see as a new shareholder. Gribkowsky told the court earlier this month (June 2012) that he received the money and a job offer as part of a secret agreement with Ecclestone in 2005.

Ecclestone has been investigated by German prosecutors but no charges have been filed against the 81-year-old Briton. He denies wrongdoing and said he was the victim of coercion by Gribkowsky.

"They based their decisions on what he told them. I told them the truth," Ecclestone told Reuters on Wednesday when asked about the verdict. "I think Gribkowsky told them what he thought he had to tell them. I don't think I should (face further action) but you don't know, do you?"

TAX PROBE

Ecclestone said Britain's tax authorities had written to him in recent months to say they were looking into his tax affairs.

"After all this, I'd have been surprised if they didn't contact me," he said, adding he would co-operate with the inquiry.

Britain's Serious Fraud Office has previously said it was liaising with the authorities in Germany to consider the allegations made in the case and whether there was scope for investigation.

Ecclestone, who gave evidence in court in November 2011, has said he paid the equivalent of about $16-million to Gribkowsky "to keep him quiet" after the German put him under pressure over his tax affairs and not to smooth the sale to CVC.

"It's not bribery," Ecclestone said on Wednesday.

BERNIE 'CO-CONSPIRITOR'

Prosecutor Christoph Rolder told the court on Wednesday that Ecclestone was "not the victim but a co-conspirator in corruption".

Ecclestone has helped to turn F1 into a global business that is expected to have revenue of $2-billion for 2012. It tours the world in a 20-race season that regularly attracts TV audiences of hundreds of millions.

BayernLB had ended up with the F1 stake after the bankruptcy of late German media mogul Leo Kirch and had assigned to Gribkowsky the task of hiving it off. CVC owned a 63% stake from 2006 but has cut that to around 35% with a series of sales in recent months.

Plans to float the business in Singapore in June 2012 were put on hold because of market turmoil.

Reuters