Bernie Ecclestone will pay $100 million to end a German corruption case that’s tainted his role as Formula One chief for more than three years.
Munich judges overseeing the trial since April signed off on the settlement after prosecutors agreed to have the case dropped upon the payment. Ecclestone said he would be able to transfer the amount within a week.
Ecclestone tried on charges he bribed Gerhard Gribkowsky, the former chief risk officer of Bayerische Landesbank, with $44 million to ensure he wouldn’t oppose the sale of the lender’s Formula One stake to CVC Capital Partners Ltd. in 2005. Gribkowsky, who managed the BayernLB’s interest in Formula One before the sale, was convicted in 2012 of accepting bribes and sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison.
The trial “so far didn’t support the suspicion in major parts and more evidence-taking isn’t likely to yield other results,” Presiding Judge Peter Noll said today.
The payment reflects Ecclestone’s wealth and will have to be divided into $99 million to be paid to the state and $1 million paid to a child-hospice charity, Noll said, adding that the case will remain on hold until the payments are made.
“Thank you very much, I will honor my commitments,” Ecclestone said.
Today’s decision “is neither a ‘deal’ nor a ‘settlement’, even less so a ‘buying out,’” Ecclestone’s lawyers said in an e-mailed statement. It “indicates that on an unbiased, objective and independent assessment after more than 100 hours of evidence, conviction of Mr. Ecclestone could not be expected with any likelihood.”
Michael Iltschev, a German spokesman for CVC, declined to comment.
Noll said the witnesses who testified at the trial made it clear that Ecclestone most likely didn’t know about BayernLB’s special role as a state bank. That would have ruled out a conviction for bribing a state official.
While the court could have continued to investigate whether he should be convicted of bribing a business representative, that offense would have been a much lesser charge, Noll said according to a court statement. The judges also took into account Ecclestone’s age and health in light of the burden of a trial in a foreign country and foreign language, he said.
Ecclestone “in every phase unconditionally made himself available in the case even though it was clear that his presence at court couldn’t have been easily enforced,” said Noll.
The corruption scandal has plagued Ecclestone since Gribkowsky was first arrested in January of 2011. Prosecutors started to probe the Formula One chief that year.
Today’s agreement raises the chances that Ecclestone can remain in the driving seat at the racing circuit, since it includes no finding of guilt and the presumption of innocence continues to apply. Since he can leave the court without a criminal record, that may spare his employer having to fire him for compliance reasons.
“If the responsible people at Formula One look at this in a merely formalistic and legalistic way, they’re missing the point,” said Sylvia Schenk, a Frankfurt lawyer and Transparency International’s senior adviser for sport.
“This deal sends a hazardous moral message: someone who first pays $44 million to a business partner for dodgy reasons and then $100 million to end a criminal case can move on as if nothing happens,” she said. “No one outside the racing world can understand that. Formula One comes under strong moral pressure.”
Ecclestone was also tried for breach of trust for receiving a 41 million euro kickback arranged by Gribkowsky. The money was paid by BayernLB. Prosecutors claimed Ecclestone refinanced the bribe he paid to Gribkowsky this way.
Noll said the trial would most likely not have resulted in a conviction on that count. Without Ecclestone, the sale wouldn’t have happened and BayernLB officials testified it was a “dream deal” for the bank, he said.
Ecclestone already in 2012 offered to pay BayernLB $50 million, Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported last year. The lender, which is seeking 400 million euros in damages from Ecclestone, rejected the offer at the time, the newspaper said.
Ecclestone may make an additional payment to also settle with BayernLB. He last week offered to pay 25 million euros ($33.5 million) to the bank.