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Bernie Ecclestone denies 'corrupt bargain' charge in bid to stay at top of F1

Motorsport boss accused of entering into 'corrupt agreement' with a banker to facilitate sale of Formula 1 group to a buyer

Motorsport boss Bernie Ecclestone has appeared at a High Court trial to defend himself against allegations that he made a “corrupt bargain” in a bid to stay at the top of Formula 1 racing.

Mr Ecclestone has been accused of entering into a "corrupt agreement" with a banker to facilitate the sale of the Formula 1 group to a buyer "chosen" by him.

A German media company says it lost out as a result of the deal and has taken legal action against Mr Ecclestone - chief executive of the Formula 1 group.

Mr Ecclestone says Constantin Medien's claim "lacks any merit" and denies any "conspiracy".

A trial in London is expected to last several weeks.

Mr Ecclestone told a judge that he made payments to the banker because the banker insinuated that he would create difficulties with tax authorities.

"It is true," said Mr Ecclestone. "That's what I have always said."

Mr Ecclestone told the court: "I made the payment ... because he said he would shake me down concerning tax arrangements with our family trust ... which would have been very expensive."

He added: "It was £10 million as it happens."

Mr Ecclestone denied saying different things to journalists or changing his story.

He said: "Most of these journalists, as you know, really should be closely working with Jeffrey Archer."

Philip Marshall QC, for Constantin, had outlined allegations at the start of the trial.

He said the banker "assisted" Mr Ecclestone to facilitate the sale of the Formula 1 Group to a "purchaser chosen by Mr Ecclestone".

Mr Marshall suggested that "corrupt payments" resulted in a sale of the bank's investment in a group of companies which owned "lucrative commercial rights" associated with Formula 1.

He said payments totalling about £27 million were made to Gerhard Gribkowsky - who had been a "senior ranking official" at a German bank - at the instigation of Mr Ecclestone.

Mr Marshall said a "corrupt arrangement" was entered into between Mr Ecclestone and Dr Gribkowsky in 2005.

He said Mr Ecclestone benefited financially and the deal allowed Mr Ecclestone to retain a "position with Formula 1 going forward".

There had been a "real risk" of Mr Ecclestone's removal from his position in the Formula 1 Group, he added.

Mr Marshall said the German bank sold its "holding" in the Formula 1 Group to a private equity group called CVC.

He said Mr Ecclestone thought CVC would support his "continuing role as chief executive" of operating companies in the Formula 1 Group.

Mr Marshall said Constantin had investment rights in the Formula 1 Group and was entitled to proceeds of any sale.

He said the bank's investment was sold "without the normal and proper process" and Constantin lost out.

Mr Marshall said the judge would have to make decisions on a number of issues and added: "The central issues are, firstly, over whether these payments were corrupt and, secondly, over whether they resulted in a sale of the investment of (the German bank) in a group of companies owning the lucrative commercial rights associated with Formula 1 motor racing at a significant undervalue."

He suggested that if the judge ruled in favour of Constantin on those issues then the company would have been a "victim of fraud" and entitled to compensation.

Mr Marshall said Dr Gribkowsky was given a jail term of more than eight years after being convicted of corruption at a trial in Munich last year.

Lawyers representing Mr Ecclestone have outlined their case to the judge in written arguments.

"This claim lacks any merit," said Robert Miles QC. "In short, this is an artificial, manufactured complaint."

He added: "The claim fails on each of its elements: there was no conspiracy, there was no intent to injure Constantin ... Constantin has suffered no loss."

Mr Miles said in 2006 it had been arranged that Dr Gribkowsky would be given a "consultancy package" and Mr Ecclestone received "tax threats".

"It was arranged that Dr Gribkowsky would be given a pay-off by way of consultancy package as he was requesting," said Mr Miles.

"Mr Ecclestone agreed to a pay-off because of the tax threats and insinuations which he had received from Dr Gribkowsky."

The hearing continues.