Motorsport boss Bernie Ecclestone has won a legal fight with a German media company but was described as not “reliable or truthful” by a High Court judge.
Mr Justice Newey yesterday dismissed a claim for around £80 million damages by Constantin Medien after a High Court trial in London.
But he concluded that Mr Ecclestone, 83, entered into a “corrupt agreement” with a banker nine years ago. Constantin said that it would appeal.
The judge described some evidence given by Mr Ecclestone, chief executive of the Formula 1 Group as “unsatisfactory”.
He said: “Even making allowances for the lapse of time and Mr Ecclestone’s age, I am afraid that I find it impossible to regard him as a reliable or truthful witness.”
Constantin accused Mr Ecclestone of entering into a “corrupt agreement” with the banker to facilitate the sale of the Formula 1 Group to a buyer chosen by him.
The company said it had lost out as a result.
Lawyers said payments totalling about £27m were made to Gerhard Gribkowsky – who was a “senior ranking official” at a German bank – at the instigation of Mr Ecclestone.
And they said a “corrupt arrangement” was entered into between Mr Ecclestone and Dr Gribkowsky in 2005.
Mr Ecclestone said Constantin’s claim lacked “any merit’’ and denied any conspiracy. He said he paid Dr Gribkowsky £10m because the banker insinuated that he would create difficulties with tax authorities.
Mr Justice Newey concluded that payments made were a “bribe”.
He said they were made because Mr Ecclestone had entered into a “corrupt agreement” with the banker in 2005.
But he said no loss to Constantin had been proved and therefore the company’s claim failed.
Mr Ecclestone is facing trial in Germany later this year after being accused of bribery. Those allegations also centre around claims relating to Dr Gribkowsky.
“Questions were asked, I answered them and I told the truth,” said Mr Ecclestone after the ruling.
“This case was about the value of some shares. It was nothing to do with whether I did or didn’t tell the truth, or whether I was unreliable or not.”
He said he had “no idea” whether Mr Justice Newey’s comments would affect any trial in Germany.
And he added: “The judge in England didn’t have all of the central witnesses, and I wasn’t there to defend whether I’m a liar or unreliable.”
A spokesman for Mr Ecclestone said later: “The judge has expressed his opinion that on the balance of probabilities there was an unlawful agreement made with Dr Gribkowsky and that payments that Mr Ecclestone made for Dr Gribkowsky’s benefit were a bribe, but this view is not underpinned by reliable evidence. The source of these allegations is Dr Gribkowsky himself, who did not give evidence in this case.”
The spokesman added: “As such, the judge’s opinion is expressed in the light of hearing only partial evidence that has not been properly tested.”
And he went on: “Mr Ecclestone welcomes that he will have the opportunity to defend these bribery allegations properly in proceedings due to begin in Munich in April, when the relevant witnesses can be compelled to attend and be cross-examined by his lawyers. He is confident that he will be acquitted.”
Mr Justice Newey said in his ruling he had been analysing civil proceedings and had made findings on the basis of the ‘’balance of probabilities’’ – not on the basis of ‘’beyond reasonable doubt’’ required in a criminal trial. At the helm of Formula 1, and with his old friend Max Mosley, Mr Ecclestone proceeded to transform it from a rich amateurs’ hobby into a money-making machine.
In recent times, he has spent large chunks of the estimated £2.5 billion fortune he made from motor racing on buying Queens Park Rangers football club and paying a reported £740m to his former wife during their 2009 divorce.