Exclusive: Ecclestone lawyers hit back at bribery charge

Christian Sylt
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LAWYERS for Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone believe that lack of evidence of a crucial meeting could undermine a bribery case against him by German authorities.

German prosecutors yesterday charged Ecclestone, 82, with bribery in connection with F1’s $1.7bn (£1.2bn) sale to its current owner, private equity firm CVC, in 2006.

Ecclestone is accused of paying a $44m (£28.9m) bribe to Gerhard Gribkowsky, former chief risk officer for German bank BayernLB, which owned a 47.2 per cent stake in F1.

Prosecutors say Ecclestone paid the money to steer F1 to CVC, which had agreed to retain him as the sport’s boss but may not have been the highest bidders.

Ecclestone denies the payment was a bribe and says Gribkowsky had threatened to make false allegations about his tax affairs unless he paid.

Gribkowsky was jailed for eight and a half years last year and a judge now has five weeks to decide whether to bring Ecclestone to trial.

Ecclestone’s lawyers plan to argue that Gribkowsky lacks credibility as a witness as he has been convicted and has changed his testimony.

They also dispute Gribkowsky’s claim, made in court, that Ecclestone offered to employ him as a consultant if he helped to sell F1. Ecclestone’s lawyer Sven Thomas told City A.M.: “In his witness statement Gribkowsky described a meeting in April or May 2005 when Bernie said ‘I will take care of you’. We cannot find the records of this. We’ve checked all possible meetings and covered the next months too.”

Ecclestone says his position is not in danger and a source close to CVC says it “could have asked Bernie to leave any time in the past three years but haven’t because we support him.”