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Bernie in court - 'I was a stupid'

2012-06-22 09:24

COURT BATTLE CONTINUES: Bernie Ecclestone's bribery case continues though the F1 chief executive believes in hindsight he should not have paid off jailed banker Gerhard Gribkowsky.

 
LONDON, June 21 - Formula 1 chief Bernie Ecclestone said that paying a German banker, who admitted in court to taking bribes during the sale of a stake in the motor-racing business, had been a "bit stupid".

Ecclestone's role has come under the spotlight after BayernLB's former chief risk officer Gerhard Gribkowsky told a Munich court on Wednesday he had allowed himself to be bribed during the sale of the bank's 48% shareholding in 2006.

Ecclestone, told Reuters that Gribkowsky had been putting him under pressure over his tax affairs.

He paid around R133-million to the banker to "keep him quiet" and not as alleged to smooth the sale of the F1 stake to private equity firm CVC Capital Partners.

Gribkowsky is on trial for breach of trust and tax evasion over a payment of R477-million he received and a judge has said he could face nine years in prison.

Ecclestone said: "I have always said that we gave him money but it was not for what he said.

"He was shaking me down a bit and saying I had control of a family trust which was not true. He was doing the best he could. I was a little bit stupid - normally I would have told him to get lost," he said.

FLOAT ON HOLD

The billionaire said his tax arrangements had been cleared by the British authorities two years later but at the time he had not wanted to get drawn into a potentially hugely expensive legal fight. The comments echo testimony Ecclestone gave to the trial.

Ecclestone said:"The downside was it could have cost R26-billion, so I paid him. My payment was just over R130-million. As a business guy, I thought that was the better deal."

CVC retained Ecclestone as head of the business after the deal. Despite his age, the diminutive Briton remains the central figure in running a sport which is expected to generate revenue of R16-billion in 2012 and there is no obvious successor.

CVC had had a majority stake in F1, the high-speed motor racing series, since 2006 but has been whittling that down in deals in recent months and now has around 35%.

US asset management company Waddell & Reed has built up a 20.9% stake for an investment of around R13-billion.

F1 put plans for a flotation in Singapore this month on hold because of market volatility, but Ecclestone said the intention was still to proceed.

Ecclestone said: "It was just simply that the market is a bit turbulent. Why go into the market and battle against something? It wasn't necessary.

"Everything is being prepared. When markets look a bit more stable, they will push the button and go," he said.

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