Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone said today he is going straight back to work after he agreed to pay nearly £60m ($100m) to a court in Germany to put an end to the bribery trial against him.
“I’m not really celebrating. It’s just not me,” Ecclestone told The Independent. “I’ve just got to get on with work. I’ve got things I need to catch up with so I’m cracking on.”
The trial began in April and could have led to Ecclestone being imprisoned for up to 10 years if he had been found guilty. Hearings had been taking place for two days a week to allow him to run Formula One at the same time which was “extremely burdensome” according to his lawyer, Sven Thomas.
“It’s a weight off my mind,” Ecclestone added after reaching the settlement, which was revealed in Tuesday’s Independent. “I have been wasting two days a week. Now I can get back to doing what I should be doing.”
The state of Bavaria will receive $99m of the settlement, with the remaining $1m going to a local children’s hospital. It is small beer for Ecclestone, whose wealth is estimated at $4bn. He said that this was a factor in the size of the settlement, which is believed to be the largest in German legal history.
“What happens in these cases is that if you want to get rid of them there is always a chunk of money you have to pay depending on how much money you have got. If I had proved that I hadn’t got any money I wouldn’t have had to pay. That’s what it’s all about.”
Ecclestone is thankful that the judge decided not to make a ruling and says “the finance of the settlement is nothing in the world to do with the judge, it’s to do with the prosecutors. What has happened is that the judge has come back and more or less said it’s an acquittal, which he didn’t have to do.”
German prosecutors had claimed that Ecclestone and his Bambino family trust paid a £27m bribe to Gerhard Gribkowsky, a former senior executive at German bank BayernLB. They believed that Ecclestone paid the money to steer the sale of BayernLB’s controlling stake in Formula One to the investment fund CVC as it had agreed to retain him as the boss of the sport. Ecclestone denies bribery and says he paid Gribkowsky to stop him making unfounded allegations about Ecclestone’s tax affairs.
A court spokesperson said that as a result of the £60m settlement “there is no ruling on guilt or innocence of the defendant”.
Ecclestone, who has been attending the trial since it began in April, says that the prosecutors approached him about settling and it is understood that this offer was driven by a lack of evidence.
Judge Peter Noll said in his concluding statement: “The charges could not, in important areas, be substantiated”.
These words and putting pen to a large cheque gave Ecclestone the keys to remain in Formula One’s driving seat for a while longer yet.