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Swiss Prosecutor Opens Criminal Probe Into F1 Bribery Case

Oct. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Swiss prosecutors opened an investigation into allegations that Formula One Chief Executive Officer Bernie Ecclestone paid a bribe to facilitate a sale of F1 shares.

Authorities in Geneva are examining a $44 million payment made by Ecclestone and his family trust, called Bambino, to German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky, a spokesman for the Geneva prosecutor’s office said today. Ecclestone was charged in May by German prosecutors over his alleged role.

“A criminal investigation has been launched,” Henri Della Casa, the spokesman, said in an interview. “We have to establish the veracity of the facts and whether these would constitute a criminal violation.”

Gribkowsky helped facilitate the sale of Bayerische Landesbank’s 47 percent stake in F1 to CVC Capital Partners Ltd. in 2005. The banker was arrested in Germany in 2011 and later convicted of taking bribes.

The Swiss investigation began after a complaint by Constantin Medien AG. The German media company is also suing Ecclestone for more than $100 million in a U.K. court case, alleging that the F1 stake was sold to CVC too cheaply because of a bribe the F1 chief paid to Gribkowsky.

Ecclestone’s lawyer in Germany, Sven Thomas, said he had no knowledge of the Swiss probe when reached by phone today. Ecclestone has repeatedly said the payments were made because Gribkowsky threatened to tell U.K. tax authorities about the family trust.

The Swiss criminal investigation was reported earlier by the Financial Times.

The civil trial in London began today with a lawyer for Constantin saying Ecclestone made a “corrupt bargain” to ensure the controlling stake in F1 was sold to CVC.

Ecclestone, 83, may testify in the trial as soon as next week. A German court is deciding whether prosecutors have enough evidence to try Ecclestone for bribery and breach of trust.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andy Hoffman in Geneva at ahoffman31@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net

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