FORMULA ONE boss Bernie Ecclestone is resuming his business activities and has said “everything is back to normal” after paying a Bavarian court £60m to end his trial on charges of bribery and incitement to breach of trust.
After three months shuttling to and from the court, the 83-year-old tycoon said he’d had enough and took advantage of Bavarian state law which allows a defendant to settle their case with a financial payment to a non-profit-making organisation, or the treasury. As part of the settlement, a portion of Ecclestone’s payment (£590,000) will go to a children’s charity.
State officials were quick to point out that there is no presumption of innocence or guilt in settling a case in this way. However, former German justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger condemned it. She said: “Justice must not be traded off in this manner. It doesn’t just leave a bad taste, it is really bare-faced cheek.”
Ecclestone, too, seemed less than jubilant at the outcome. Referring to the fact that in all likelihood, he would have been acquitted at the end of the trial he said: “What has happened today is good and bad. The good is the judge more or less said I was acquitted, and they [the prosecution] really didn’t have a case. So I was a bit of an idiot to do what I did to settle, because it wasn’t with the judge, it was with the prosecutors.”
But, he said, the settlement would allow him to return to his various business activities, including sitting on the main board of F1.
“It’s done and finished, so it’s all right. I’m content, it’s all fine. This now allows me to do what I do best, which is running F1.”
Ecclestone had been accused of paying Gerhard Gribkowsky, an official at the bank Bayern LB, £26m to influence the sale of its shares in F1 to the private equity firm, and current majority shareholder, CVC Capital Partners.
In turn, the F1 boss claimed he was being “shaken down” by Gribkowsky who was threatening to tell HM Revenue and Customs he had an offshore family trust in his name. Ecclestone denied this. Had it been true, he would have faced a tax bill of £2bn.
At the settlement of the trial, judge Peter Noll said: “The charges could not be substantiated.”