Banker fell for F1 - Bernie

2011-11-11 09:01

A former German banker, on trial for embezzlement and bribery in a Formula 1 rights deal, fell in love with the sport's glamorous lifestyle and wanted to be a part of it, Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone told a German court.

Gerhard Gribkowsky, an ex-BayernLB banker, is on trial charged with selling Formula 1 rights in return for a bribe, with the involvement of Ecclestone.

Gribkowsky is charged with bribery, embezzlement and tax evasion in a deal that cost the bank €717m, with him pocketing about R347m as part of a bribe, according to prosecutors.

"They fall in love with Formula One," the 81-year-old Briton, who runs the commercial side of the sport, said on his second day as a witness in the trial.

Ecclestone said Gribkowsky was like many other people in that way.

"He liked the lifestyle. He made it quite clear that he wants to leave the bank," he said, adding that the banker had become his ex-wife's "drinking partner," when they met each other at races.

Ecclestone added that Gribkowsky was pushing for further involvement in the sport after his bank sold the rights.

Gribkowsky enjoyed being introduced as Ecclestone's boss, the Briton told the court when examined by the banker's lawyers.


Ecclestone said, "It is true. I have no idea what he wanted to become. I think he acted as he would (like to be Mister F1)."

Ecclestone told the court on Wednesday he had paid off the banker with a sum of about R175m to keep him quiet and from going to British tax authorities.

The Briton said that merely a tax probe could have been "a disaster" for him and his companies and could have cost him as much as £25bn.

"I must confess I have been shaken down by other people but not quite as subtly as he did,"Ecclestone said.

He said he did not want the money he had paid Gribkowsky returned, preferring that it had gone to a charity.

Asked why he had not contacted German or British police when he felt the banker's pressure, Ecclestone said: "That would have been a waste of time."

BayernLB had a stake in Formula 1 up to 2006 along with JP Morgan, Lehman Brothers and Ecclestone's family trust.

The banks had acquired a 75% stake in F1 holding company SLEC after the collapse of Germany's Kirch media group, which had borrowed some R12bn from them.

BayernLB was Kirch's biggest creditor.

SLEC was sold to the current Formula One rights holders, private equity firm CVC, in 2006 with Ecclestone remaining hands-on in running the business.

The trial follows Gribkowsky's arrest in January and is expected to last several months.

He denies the charges.