Bernie Ecclestone was a conspirator in a bribery scheme that sent $44 million to a Bayerische Landesbank executive to clear the 2005 sale of the lender’s stake in Formula One racing, prosecutors said.
Formula One Chief Executive Officer Ecclestone, “hasn’t been blackmailed, he is a co-perpetrator in a bribery case,” public prosecutor Christoph Rodler said in closing arguments at a Munich trial against former BayernLB Chief Risk Officer Gerhard Gribkowsky. The two men agreed they “would support a sale of BayernLB’s Formula One stake to Ecclestone’s benefit.”
Ecclestone, who isn’t a defendant in the case and hasn’t been charged with the crime, is planning an initial public offering for Formula One in Singapore where shareholders intend to raise as much as $3 billion. Gribkowsky, on trial for accepting bribes, breach of trust and tax evasion, confessed last week to the charges and said Ecclestone bribed him during the sale of the lender’s stake in the racing company to CVC Capital Partners Ltd.
Gribkowsky told the court the indictment against him was “in most parts” correct. In exchange for his confession, the judges informally agreed Gribkowsky would get a prison term ranging from 7 years and 10 months to 9 years. Rodler sought a longer sentence of 10 years and six months today.
“Gribkowsky’s confession came at a late stage on day 45 of the trial, but at least it was made,” Rodler said referring to payments made by Ecclestone to Gribkowsky. “Ecclestone doesn’t give away money, he generates it; that’s why bribery remains as the only explanation.”
Ecclestone said June 21 he doesn’t expect to be charged and that he was “not at all” concerned the case would disrupt Formula One’s planned IPO in Singapore.
Ecclestone, who is being investigated by Munich prosecutors over the issue, told the court last year he was caught up in a sophisticated shakedown and paid Gribkowsky because he feared the banker might tell U.K. tax authorities about a family trust controlled by his then wife.
Prosecutors charged Gribkowsky, who managed Munich-based BayernLB’s interest in Formula One, with accepting bribes, breach of trust and tax evasion. They claim he received $44 million to steer the sale of the bank’s 47 percent stake in the racing circuit to CVC, a U.K.-based buyout firm, and also agreed to a sham contract under whichEcclestone received a kickback. Until last week, Gribkowsky denied the claims.
“Ecclestone had a vital interest to get rid of the banks as he feared for his life’s work,” Rodler said. “He massively supported the sale with everything within his power.”
At the same time, “Gribkowsky was looking for an exit from the dusty state-owned bank and the sale of the Formula One stake was his last chance to play a role in the racing series,” Rodler added.
BayernLB acquired the Formula One stake after the 2002 bankruptcy of Leo Kirch’s media group. Gribkowsky clashed with Ecclestone and sued him in London over corporate-governance rules changed to limit the lender’s influence. Ecclestone wanted to push BayernLB out and saw a chance when CVC showed interest, prosecutors said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Oliver Suess in Munich at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@Bloomberg.net.