F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone pays staggering £60million out of court settlement to be cleared of bribery charges in Germany

Formula One supremo is set to pay a huge sum to be cleared of bribery charges in German court case

Bernie Ecclestone is expected to be cleared of bribery charges in Germany after paying an out-of-court settlement of a staggering £60m or $100m, which is believed to be the largest in the country’s history.

The £60m will be handed to the state of Bavaria and Ecclestone’s lawyer Sven Thomas revealed to The Independent that he will ask the court on Tuesday to use the money to build a new Formula One track in the region.

“It seems that we will be successful in the settlement,” Thomas said on Monday. “The amount is not confidential. They are talking about $100m.”

A press release about the settlement will be issued on Tuesday and Thomas added that “the $100m is for the state of Bavaria. Maybe they will try and build a circuit. I will propose this – that they should build a nice circuit.”

Thomas added that “it is a settlement without any conviction, the presumption of innocence is still valid. That was a condition under which I negotiated.”

Under German law, prosecutors can withdraw charges during criminal trials if all parties agree to the payment of a sum of money to a charity or the treasury.

The bribery charges stem from a £27m payment made by Ecclestone and his Bambino family trust to Gerhard Gribkowsky, a former senior executive at German bank BayernLB. German prosecutors believed that the payment was a bribe to steer the sale of BayernLB’s controlling stake in Formula One to the investment fund CVC, which now owns the sport, in 2006. Ecclestone denies bribery and says he paid Gribkowsky to stop him making unfounded allegations about Ecclestone’s tax affairs.

Last week Thomas said in court that, although the allegations against Ecclestone are “highly questionable”, the 83-year-old wants to end the case as it has become “extremely burdensome”. Thomas told The Independent that a settlement “takes away the risks and is a kind of acquittal, which otherwise would take the next three, four or five months. There will always be a remaining risk. Defence means to mitigate the risks step by step. That’s defence.”

He added that “the settlement puts an end to the trial for all times. No one can try with this case once again. It is binding, like a sentence which can’t be appealed.

Donald Mackenzie, left, said Bernie Ecclestone would be fired if it was proved he had acted criminally Donald Mackenzie, left, said Bernie Ecclestone would be fired if it was proved he had acted criminally (AP)

If Ecclestone had been found guilty the penalty could have been up to 10 years in prison but there was more at stake than his freedom. In January he resigned, from F1’s board of directors though he still runs the sport on a day-to-day basis. He insisted that he would return to the board once the trial is over but in November CVC co-founder Donald Mackenzie said “if it is proven that Mr Ecclestone has done anything that is criminally wrong, we would fire him”.

Ecclestone told The Independent that the settlement is “nothing to do” with his position as Formula One’s boss and adds that he did not initiate the settlement talks. “The prosecutors said, ‘Do we want to have a chat about it?’ That is what started it. We didn’t ask them, they asked us.”

Mr Gribkowsky is a former senior executive at German bank BayernLB Mr Gribkowsky is a former senior executive at German bank BayernLB (Reuters)

In June The Independent revealed that Ecclestone had tried to settle before the trial began but his offer had been rejected. Circumstances have changed since then as the trial has not yielded the smoking gun that was expected.

When the hearings began in April it was thought that Gribkowsky would be the star witness and would give incriminating evidence against Ecclestone. This is because in June 2012 Gribkowsky confessed that the £27m payment was a bribe to smooth the sale to CVC.

However, during testimony in May Gribkowsky was asked again why he received the payment and he responded “I never asked myself that question. I’m still annoyed with myself for that today.” It clearly irritated the judge, Peter Noll, who said: “It’s hard for me to comprehend [what went on] if you are unable to say more precisely how it came about.”

A settlement would pave the way for CVC to sell its 35 per cent stake in Formula One. It has already made £2.6bn through payments from the sport and selling down its investment but the trial has been a roadblock to it exiting completely, as it placed a question over the organisation’s leadership. That question should be cleared up today.

Bernie Ecclestone: A controversial career

Bernie Ecclestone’s time as the ‘F1 supremo’ has had lots of controversial moments, from idolising Hitler and Putin to blatant sexism.

1997 Ecclestone gives the Labour Party £1m at a time when the sport was putting pressure on the Government to allow tobacco sponsorship. Tony Blair returns donation.

2000 Tells Autosport that women would never excel in Formula One. Years later describes women as “domestic appliances.”

2007 Acquires Queen’s Park Rangers FC with Flavio Briatore. Sells club in 2011, saying, “If you ask me to name five of our team, I couldn’t.”

2009 Wife of 23 years Slavica files for divorce. The former model is 28 years his junior and 11in taller. Ecclestone says Adolf Hitler was a man who “got things done”.

2012 Bribery trial begins – Ecclestone is described as a “co-perpetrator” in case.

2014 Hails Vladamir Putin as “courageous” for anti-gay law in Russia. “I’ve great admiration for him and his courage to say what he says. I think he is completely right.”

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