Ecclestone: I am innocent. The truth will prevail in the end

Bernie Ecclestone

Bernie Ecclestone in Spain

Lawyers for Formula One Chief Executive Bernie Ecclestone reiterated on Wednesday that he had not bribed a German banker during the 2005-2006 sale of a stake in the motor racing business, after a newspaper reported he had been charged by prosecutors.

German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported on Wednesday that prosecutors had charged the 82-year-old Briton, who has turned the sport into a global money maker over the past three decades, with bribery and inciting others to a fiduciary breach of trust.

“The documents with the charges from the Munich prosecutor’s office have not yet been received by the defense,” said German law firm Thomas Deckers Wehnert Elsner, acting for Ecclestone.

“Therefore, we cannot provide a statement. The defense sticks to its view that Mr. Ecclestone has neither committed bribery nor played any part in committing a fiduciary breach of trust,” added the firm, based in the German city of Duesseldorf.

L-R: Dr Gerhard Gribkowsky (GER) the majority shareholder of SLEC Holdings with Bernie Ecclestone (GBR) F1 supremo with daughters Petra Ecclestone (GBR) and Tamara Ecclestone (GBR). Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Italian Grand Prix, Race Day, Monza, Italy, 4 September 2005. DIGITAL IMAGE

Gerhard Gribkowsky with Bernie Ecclestone and his daughters Petra and Tamara on the grid for the 2005 Italian GP at Monza

The Munich prosecutor’s office declined to comment on the Sueddeutsche Zeitung report. On Monday, it said it had finished its investigation of Ecclestone, but declined to comment on what it might do next.

In an interview with German daily Bild-Zeitung, Ecclestone ruled out that he would resign as head of Formula One.

“The shareholders will have to make that decision. Once my contract with the company expires, they can replace me if they want,” Ecclestone said, according to Bild, in a report due to be published on Thursday.

Bild also reported that Ecclestone denied the charges against him: “I am innocent. The truth will prevail in the end.”

Under the German legal system, once a preliminary investigation has been completed, prosecutors need to decide whether to press ahead with charges or drop the matter. Prosecutors could also drop the proceedings in exchange for a “non-penal payment.”

Bernie Ecclestone speaks to media in Barcelona

Bernie Ecclestone speaks to media in Barcelona

At issue is whether Ecclestone bribed a German banker in a business deal in which lender BayernLB sold a 48 percent stake in a Formula One holding company to CVC, a private equity investor that Ecclestone was keen to see as a new shareholder.

Ecclestone made payments to Gerhard Gribkowsky, BayernLB’s former chief risk officer, who has since been jailed for tax evasion. BayernLB had ended up with the Formula One stake following the bankruptcy of the media empire of Leo Kirch. BayernLB assigned Gribkowsky with the task of hiving it off.

In June last year, Ecclestone denied the payments to Gribkowsky amounted to bribes. Instead, he told a Munich court in November 2011 that he paid Gribkowsky to “keep him quiet” after the German put him under pressure over his tax affairs, and not to smooth the sale to CVC.

CVC owned a 63 percent stake in Formula One, but has since cut that to around 35 percent in a series of deals.

Ecclestone told Reuters last month that the company behind Formula One could be floated in Singapore at the end of this year. (Reuters)

  • Bec

    If Mr. E is charged, and if he’s found not guilty that would mean Gribkowsky was innocent of receiving a bribe, and therefore Gribkowsky could sue for substantial damages, and this would severely damage the reputation of the German legal system.

    The German legal system needs to find Mr.E guilty, even if he’s not, the German legal system has painted itself into a corner.

  • Odd Lord

    Ecclestone: I am innocent. The truth will prevail in the end

    If thats true, he will be convicted!

  • Hawk

    Gerhard has been jailed for tax evasion

  • PB

    The truth prevails only if the truth is revealed in the first instance