Bernie Ecclestone bribery case: what is F1 boss charged with?
The impresario's control of the sport is under threat after criminal charges in Germany
FORMULA 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has stepped down from the board of the company that runs the sport in order to fight bribery charges in Germany.
Despite the decision of the court in Munich, which indicted the 83-year-old last summer, he will continue to run the business on a day-to-day basis.
The impresario's legal problems date back to the sale of the sport to CVC Capital Partners in 2006. Investigators claim that he paid bribes of $44m to a now-jailed banker to undervalue a German bank's stake in the motor racing circus.
Ecclestone, who has controlled F1's commercial rights for decades, has been embroiled in other legal disputes over the sale, but the launch of criminal proceedings "will threaten his position as the most powerful man in motor sport," says the Daily Telegraph. They could also lead to a jail sentence.
What are the charges?
They relate to a "secret payment to Gerhard Gribkowsky, a banker who was involved in organising F1's sale nearly a decade ago", explains Sky News. Gribkowsky worked for Bayern Landesbank, which was selling a 47 per cent stake in F1 acquired it from the bankrupt Kirch media group. The money was allegedly paid to Gribowsky so he would undervalue the shares, allowing the CVC deal to go ahead.
Who is Gerhard Gribkowsky?
He was BayernLB's chief risk officer and was "instrumental in the sale of the bank's stake [in F1] to CVC", says the FT. Ecclestone has admitted paying the banker $44m, but says he was being "shaken down" by Gribkowsky, who was threatening to make false claims about him to the UK tax authorities. Gribkowsky was jailed for eight-and-a-half years by a Munich court in 2012 after admitting he accepted the payments. Ecclestone was a witness in the case.
Are there other cases?
Yes. Last year Ecclestone faced a $140m damages case in the High Court in London over the deal, brought against him by by a German media firm, Constantin Medien. It claimed that it had lost out on a large commission because of the undervaluation of BayernLB's stake. A judgement on that case is expected from Mr Justice Newey this month.
BayernLB is also planning legal action. Last month the bank confirmed it was "working at high speed on civil charges against Mr Ecclestone and expects to file suit against him in High Court in London in January 2014".
To make matters worse, the FT reports: "Swiss prosecutors have also launched a criminal investigation into the circumstances of the $44m payments and a lawsuit has been filed in the US by a private equity group claiming that Mr Ecclestone conspired to prevent it from buying F1 in 2005."
What will happen to Ecclestone?
His trial is expected to get underway in Munich on 23 April. "He will step down from the board of the CVC until the trial has concluded," reports the Telegraph. "However, he will remain in charge of F1's day-to-day management." The plan was suggested by Ecclestone himself, says the FT, which adds that he intends to "mount a strong defence". But if things go against him it could end his involvement in the sport. "He faces a possible jail term if found guilty, something he has previously said would force him to stand down as head of F1," says the BBC.