Bernie Ecclestone is facing the prospect of another major lawsuit which could threaten his position in Formula One’s driving seat if he loses his current High Court battle, The Independent can disclose.
In the final few days of the court hearing last month, it came to light that a new lawsuit claiming $400m (£244m) from the motor-racing tycoon is due to be filed within weeks.
Mr Ecclestone told The Independent that he thinks the new claim will get thrown out if he wins the ongoing case. But he vowed to fight the new suit if it goes ahead.
German media rights firm Constantin Medien claimed in court that Mr Ecclestone and his Bambino family trust paid a $44m bribe to undervalue a 47.2 per cent stake in F1 when it was sold by German bank BayernLB to private equity firm CVC in 2006.
The money was paid to BayernLB banker Gerhard Gribkowsky and Constantin says that in return he steered the sale of F1 to CVC as it had agreed to retain Mr Ecclestone as the sport’s chief executive.
CVC bought the stake for $814m but Constantin says other buyers would have paid more. It claims it lost out since it had an agreement with BayernLB entitling it to 10 per cent of the proceeds if the stake sold for more than $1.1bn.
Constantin sued Mr Ecclestone, Mr Gribkowsky, Bambino and its former legal adviser Stephen Mullens for $140.4m. Judgement in the case is due early this year.
In the last few days of the Constantin case, BayernLB won access to the documents from the trial and a spokesman announced that the bank “expects to file suit against [Mr Ecclestone] in the High Court in London in January 2014”. Like Constantin, it claims that the F1 stake was undervalued and it is understood to want $400m in damages.
When asked whether he expects BayernLB to take legal action if the judge in the Constantin trial rules that the stake was not undervalued, Mr Ecclestone said: “No. BayernLB are waiting for a settlement.” He said he may force the case to be heard even if he wins the ongoing case.
In 2012 a German court sentenced Mr Gribkowsky to eight-and-a-half years in prison for receiving the alleged bribe. Mr Ecclestone may yet be put on trial for paying it. Mr Ecclestone denies paying a bribe and says Mr Gribkowsky threatened to make false allegations about his tax affairs if the money had not been paid.