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Bernie's lawyer: Case 'ludicrous'

2013-10-31 08:11

BERNIE HEADED TO COURT…AGAIN: Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has been accused in court of "a corrupt bargain" that cost a German media firm millions.Image: AFP

ESTELLE SHIRBON

LONDON, England - A company's claim for more than R994-million in damages from Bernie Ecclestone is far-fetched and relies on confessions from a jailed banker who is "a fantasist", says the Formula 1 chief executive’s lawyers.

German media firm Constantin Medien alleges that Ecclestone and three other defendants deliberately undervalued Formula 1 when German bank BayernLB sold its 47% in the sport to CVC Capital Partners for R8-billion in 2005.

CORRUPT BARGAIN

Constantin had an interest in the sale and said it lost out as a result of the undervaluation, which it claims was "a corrupt bargain" instigated by Ecclestone because he knew CVC would keep him in place as F1's chief.

Lawyer Robert Miles said there was no merit in Constantin's claim. Putting forward Ecclestone's version of events on the second day of a civil case at the High Court in London, he said: "This is a case that simply does not add up."

He argued that Ecclestone would have had no interest in undervaluing F1 when his family's Bambino Holdings was selling its own 25% stake at the same price.

Ecclestone is to present evidence in November 2013.

The case is one of a barrage of legal problems that threatens to end his long reign over F1. A German court is to decide in 2013 whether he should be tried for bribery there.

Meanwhile, Ecclestone has rejected Constantin's allegation that BayernLB was persuaded to sell to CVC at that price because he promised multi-million dollar bribes to Gerhard Gribkowsky, the executive in charge.

Miles said: "The bank was absolutely delighted by the offer. It was sold to CVC because it considered it a very good offer."

He said CVC's offer was attractive to BayernLB at a time when the future value of F1 was in doubt because of a threat by racing car manufacturers to set up a rival series.

Gribkowsky, who received R437-million from Ecclestone after the sale, is serving eight-and-a-half years in jail for corruption in Germany. Ecclestone accepts he made the payments but says he was blackmailed by Gribkowsky who was threatening to make claims about him to the British tax authorities.

ECCLESTONE BLACKMAILED


Miles wrote in written submissions to the court: "These payments were made because Gribkowsky was 'shaking down' - in effect blackmailing - Ecclestone in respect of his tax arrangements.

"The suggestion that this was all done to entrench Ecclestone's position simply does not bear scrutiny."

Miles said that Ecclestone was in "the strongest position" he had ever enjoyed within F1 at the time of these events: "There is an array of evidence that demonstrates that Gribkowsky was, to put it mildly, something of a fantasist."

Miles cited "ludicrous" suggestions made by Gribkowsky that Ecclestone had tried to bribe him with sums of R99-million to R1.9-billion at the French or Australian GP's in 2004.

Miles said Gribkowsky had repeatedly changed his story, at one point mentioning a suitcase containing millions in cash but later dropping that particular detail.

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