Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has been charged by German prosecutors for alleged bribery in connection with the sale of a stake in the global racing series.
Ecclestone has been under investigation since a German banker was convicted of taking an illegal payment from him worth £29 million.
The 82-year-old has denied wrongdoing and said he will fight to clear his name.
The case could mean a further delay to tentative plans to float Formula One on the stock market in Singapore and will revive speculation about an eventual successor to the man who turned the sport into a major global business.
The indictment has been translated into English and sent to Ecclestone’s German lawyers, charging him with bribery and breach of trust, a Munich court spokesman said.
The case centres upon a £29m payment to German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky in 2005 when BayernLB was selling a 48 per cent stake in Formula One to CVC, a private equity investor that Ecclestone was keen to see as a new shareholder.
Gribkowsky, BayernLB’s former chief risk officer, was jailed last year for more than eight years for tax evasion and bribery after taking the payment from Ecclestone and failing to declare it to German tax authorities.
Ecclestone has denied that 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.
Yesterday, Ecclestone told reporters: “The lawyers have accepted an indictment.
“It means they have to reply to the indictment which they are strenuously doing.”
He said he has yet to read the indictment, but said: “They are alleging I bribed someone,” insisting he did “nothing illegal”.
“We are defending it properly,” he added. “It will be an interesting case. It’s a pity it’s happened.”
Mr Ecclestone’s lawyers said they would respond to the charges shortly.
“The main topic of the response will be the changing ‘confessions’ of Gribkowsky,” Duesseldorf-based law firm Thomas Deckers Wehnert Elsner said.
The defence has until mid-August to submit its response. A decision about whether to proceed with a trial is not expected before mid-September, the court spokesman said.
Ecclestone remains central to the motor-racing business he has been involved with for decades and the diminutive chief is a familiar figure at its races.
He has always said he has no plans to retire and there is no obvious successor in place.
BayernLB had ended up with the Formula One stake following the bankruptcy of the media empire of Leo Kirch and the bank assigned Gribkowsky with the task of hiving it off.
BayernLB is seeking £263m in damages from Ecclestone, claiming that the stake was not sold for full value.
CVC declined to comment.