A GERMAN court has agreed to end the bribery trial of Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone in exchange for a £60 million payment from him.
Presiding judge Peter Noll brought a halt to the three-month trial at the Munich district court, where the 83-year-old had faced charges of bribery and incitement to breach of trust. It followed week-long negotiations between the sport tycoon’s lawyers and state prosecutors.
Under Bavarian state law, a trial of such a nature can be concluded if the accused makes a payment to a non-profit making organisation, or the treasury. Such an offer, however, does not imply any guilt on behalf of the accused.
According to the terms of the offer, $99m (about £60m) will go directly to the German state. The remainder, about $1m, will go to a German charity that looks after terminally ill children. Ecclestone’s lawyer, Sven Thomas, told reporters: “This is not about a conviction, but a cessation of the trial with no admission of guilt.
“There will be no guilty verdict whatsoever and that clearly changes the situation in terms of the evidence and legal position, otherwise the talks between the prosecution and defence would not have been possible.”
Ecclestone left the court for the final time “a free man”, officials confirmed.
In 2006, German regional bank BayernLB sold its 47.2 per cent stake in the F1 business to private equity firm, and the current majority shareholder, CVC Capital Partners.
Prosecutors claim Ecclestone paid Gerhard Gribkowsky – formerly the chief risk officer of BayernLB – a bribe of £26m to steer the sale to CVC. It has been suggested that this was done as Ecclestone considered CVC would allow him to continue in his role running the sport.
Ecclestone has long maintained his innocence, claiming he was “shaken down” by Gribkowsky. Ecclestone claimed the German threatened to inform HM Revenue & Customs that he controlled an offshore family trust, which would have led to him facing a huge tax bill.
Although Ecclestone has continually insisted the trust is not in his name, if an investigation had uncovered evidence to the contrary then he would have been liable for a tax bill of around £2 billion.
Two years ago, Gribkowsky was jailed for eight-and-a-half years after he was convicted of tax evasion, bribery and breach of fiduciary duty.
Ecclestone’s trial was initially suspended last Tuesday after he offered to pay a sum of money. It was believed at that stage to be �25m (£19.8m), paid in return for the charges being dropped.
Over the past few days, negotiations have swayed back and forth before finally resulting in the $100m offer.
Ecclestone has continued to run F1 either side of attending court for two days a week, which would have concluded in October had it run its full course. But his future hinged on the trial’s outcome as he had been warned a guilty verdict, regardless of whether he avoided a prison sentence, would have resulted in his dismissal as chief executive.
In January, and to alleviate his own workload, Ecclestone stood down from a number of directorial positions on companies related to F1. It now remains to be seen whether he will again resume those roles.