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Bernie wins R1bn corruption case

2014-02-20 16:20

CASE THROWN OUT Bernie Ecclestone’s corruption trial has been dismissed though the judge found the F1 executive to be “unreliable” as a witness. Image: AP

LONDON, England — Despite a ruling damaging to his already tarnished image, Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone (83) won a multimillion-dollar case at London's High Court
relating to the sale of F1 in 2005.

The case was dismissed but the judge said it had nevertheless been a corrupt deal and questioned Ecclestone's honesty.

'NOT A RELIABLE WITNESS'

Judge Guy Newey said: "Even, making allowances for the lapse of time and Ecclestone's age, I am afraid that I find it impossible to regard him as a reliable or truthful witness."

A former F1 shareholder, German media company Constantin Medien, had sued Ecclestone and other defendants for up to R1-billion, claiming F1 was undervalued at the time of the sale to investment group CVC Capital Partners.

Ecclestone was accused of entering into a "corrupt agreement" with German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky to facilitate the sale of Formula 1 Group to a buyer chosen by him.

The High Court said the deal was corrupt but ruled that Constantin Medien did not lose out as a result.

'THE FACT IS FATAL TO THE CLAIM'

Newey said: "No loss to Constantin has been shown to have been caused by the corrupt arrangement with Gribkowsky. That fact is fatal to the claim."

During the trial, which ran from October to December last year, Constantin Medien's lawyers said that payments totaling about R498-million were made to Gribkowsky at the instigation of Ecclestone.

Gribkowsky, who was in charge of selling German bank BayernLB's 47% stake in F1 to CVC, has already been found guilty of corruption, tax evasion and breach of trust and is serving an 8½-year prison sentence.

Ecclestone acknowledged during Gribkowsky's trial that he made the payment to avoid being reported by the banker to authorities over his tax affairs.

BRIBERY IN F1

Newey said: "The payments were a bribe. They were made because Mr Ecclestone had entered into a corrupt agreement with Gribkowsky in May 2005 under which Dr Gribkowsky was to be rewarded for facilitating the sale of BLB's shares in the Formula 1 group to a buyer acceptable to Ecclestone."

Constantin said it would appeal the decision.

Head of commercial fraud litigation at Peters and Peters Solicitors, lawyer Keith Oliver, said: "The judge ruled against Constantin essentially on technical grounds — including extremely complicated questions of German law which is the governing law in the case — and Constantin will be appealing those findings."

Ecclestone is also facing trial in Germany. He is charged with bribery and incitement to breach of trust connected with the payment to Gribkowsky. The trial will begin on April 24 and is set to run until September 16 2014

Bribery convictions can result in prison sentences ranging from three months to 10 years in Germany. Ecclestone said earlier this month he is expecting the case to be thrown out before the trial starts.

Ecclestone has stepped down as a member of F1's holding company board of directors pending the outcome of the trial but continues running the sport.

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Read more on:    bernie ecclestone  |  england  |  london  |  motorsport  |  racing  |  f1

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