Prosecution accepts US$100m offer by Ecclestone to end bribery trial in Germany

Ecclestone, accused of bribery over company sale, risks losing control of Formula One if found guilty

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 August, 2014, 6:58pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 August, 2014, 7:23pm

A German judge said on Tuesday he would discontinue for now a bribery trial against Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone following his offer to make a US$100 million payment.

Judge Peter Noll told the court the suspicion of bribery against Ecclestone was by and large not backed up during the trial. He ordered Ecclestone to pay US$100 million within a week – US$99 million to the state and US$1 million to a children’s charity.

Ecclestone, 83, went on trial in Munich in April over allegations he paid a US$44 million bribe to a former German banker to facilitate the sale of a major stake in the motor sport business eight years ago.

Ecclestone, a former used car salesman who became a billionaire by building the sport into a global money spinner over the past four decades, has denied any wrongdoing.

The state prosecutor told the court earlier on Tuesday that due to Ecclestone’s “advanced age” and “other extenuating circumstances”, they supported the proposed settlement.

Private equity group CVC, the largest shareholder in Formula One with a stake of 35 per cent, has said it would have fired Ecclestone if he were found guilty.

The state prosecutor told the court on Tuesday that due to Ecclestone’s “advanced age” and “other extenuating circumstances”, they supported the proposed settlement.

The state prosecutor added that during the course of the trial it was becoming increasingly clear that the bribery charges would be difficult to hold up.

If found guilty, the British billionaire could have faced up to 10 years in jail, although a prison term would have been unlikely in light of his age.

Under German law, judges, prosecutors and the defence can agree to dismiss a case or settle it with a light punishment, although terms for such an agreement are strictly defined.

A spokeswoman for the Munich court, Andrea Titz, said a settlement did not mean there was an admission of guilt.

“With this type of ending ... there is no ruling on guilt or innocence of the defendant. He is neither acquitted nor judged, rather this is a special type of ending a procedure which is in theory available to all types of cases,” she told reporters.

Titz added that Ecclestone’s defence and state prosecutors had had a series of discussions to explore whether the trial could be discontinued with a settlement.

“These discussions evidently came to a result, which has been presented to the court today,” she said.

“The court will then have to decide whether it can accept this proposal because it is the court which must rule whether the proposal is workable in order to end the case.”

Ecclestone is accused of channeling cash to jailed BayernLB banker Gerhard Gribkowsky to smooth the sale of a major stake in the business by the bank to private equity fund CVC, which became the largest shareholder in Formula One in 2006.

Ecclestone had appeared somewhat nervous when he entered the courtroom on Tuesday as cameras flashed.

He was accompanied by his defence lawyers Thomas and Norbert Scharf, while his wife, Fabiana Flosi, watched from the spectator section of the court.

Despite his age, Ecclestone attends almost every grand prix and remains central to the sport’s commercial success. He has always dismissed talk of retirement and there is no obvious replacement when he does finally quit or is forced out.