The Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has promised to get even with critics who predicted his downfall from a bribery trial, which he settled earlier this month.
Mr Ecclestone paid $100m (£60m) to prosecutors in Germany to put the brakes on charges that he paid a bribe to steer the sale of Formula One to his preferred buyer, the private equity firm CVC.
The trial was being held for two days every week to allow Mr Ecclestone to continue to run it, and his lawyer Sven Thomas said that it had become “extremely burdensome”.
“Now I am in a position where I have got a little bit more time and I shall follow my old idea in life: ‘Don’t get mad, get even.’ I haven’t got mad but I’m going to get even,” Mr Ecclestone said.
He said that high on his list is Dieter Hahn, a German businessman on the board of media rights company Constantin Medien. Last year it sued Mr Ecclestone in London for allegedly undervaluing Formula One by engineering the sale to CVC rather than a higher bidder. In February it lost its case, but it is appealing the decision.
By settling the trial in Germany Mr Ecclestone preserved his innocence and the judge Peter Noll said that “the charges could not, in important areas, be substantiated”.
Video: Bernie Ecclestone pays $100m to prosecutors earlier this month
The judge’s comments came after the £60m had been paid to prosecutors and Mr Ecclestone said afterwards that he was “a bit of an idiot” to settle. However, he added: “The prosecutors didn’t know the judge was going to come up with that.”
The judge said that the settlement sum was set in relation to the wealth of the accused. “The system is quite good because if somebody is in trouble and earning $5,000 a year it is a bit different to somebody who is earning more,” said Mr Ecclestone. He added: “They didn’t make me pay $100m. I agreed to pay.”
The prosecutors approached Mr Ecclestone about settling after the trial had been under way for three months and he says it could not have happened sooner. “It’s not quite as easy as people portray. You don’t just say ‘Here’s a few quid.’ It’s a bit of a privilege. They have to realise that perhaps they haven’t got a good case and provided that the prosecutors, me and the defence are happy then it’s OK, but up to then they just keep going.”
The settlement paves the way for CVC to sell its 35 per cent stake in the sport. According to recent reports, possible buyers include Virgin Media’s owner Liberty Global, Disney and even Mr Ecclestone himself. However, he is coy about whether a deal is on the horizon.
“Disney is a nice company. Nice people,” he said. “Lots of people have looked at buying Formula One. Until they start looking at what they have got to pay, it is coffee-shop talk. I’ve no idea whether CVC are going to sell this year. I haven’t got a clue.
“Whether I buy back into Formula One depends what sort of situation arises, but it’s not a priority. I’m a bit busy at the moment and have got a lot of catching up to do.”