It was consultancy cash, not a bribe, says Ecclestone


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The Independent Online

The Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has told The Independent that Gerhard Gribkowsky, the banker accused of taking a £27m bribe in Germany's biggest post-war corruption trial, was paid for work he did as a property consultant for his family trust.

Mr Ecclestone has admitted paying £8m to Mr Gribkowsky with the remainder coming from the trust. Until now, the only reason Mr Ecclestone has given for his payment was that it was made to stop Mr Gribkowsky reporting false allegations about his tax affairs to the Inland Revenue. He claims that Mr Gribkowsky insinuated he would inform the tax authority that Mr Ecclestone controls his family's offshore trust, which could make him liable to pay the tax on the estimated £2.5bn it has received from F1.

Last week, Mr Ecclestone took the witness stand in Munich and said that if Mr Gribkowsky had contacted the tax authority "he would have landed me with a lengthy investigation, massive legal costs and I didn't need it and so I paid to get rid of the problem".

He reiterated this to The Independent but added that the trust paid its portion of the money because "the trust had a deal with Gribkowsky to advise on property deals and did some property deals that he proposed".

Mr Gribkowsky worked for the German bank BayernLB and was responsible for selling its 47.2 per cent stake in F1. This was bought by the sport's present owner, the private equity firm CVC, in 2006. German prosecutors have accused Mr Gribkowsky of demanding money from Mr Ecclestone in return for his agreement to sell to CVC which wanted to keep Mr Ecclestone as F1's chief executive.

Prosecutors say they have uncovered consultancy contracts between the trust and Mr Gribkowsky but they believe they were used to disguise the payment demanded by the banker. Mr Gribkowsky has been charged with corruption, breach of trust and tax evasion, but denies all charges. Neither Mr Ecclestone nor CVC has been charged.

Mr Ecclestone says a tax investigation could have taken years to defend in court, which "would have cost more in lawyers" than paying Mr Gribkowsky, which is something he says he now regrets.

"At the time everything wasn't sorted and clear but now it is," he said. "It is painfully obvious now that I was a little bit stupid, perhaps, in paying him, but hindsight is a great thing."

The trust's lawyer, Dr Eckhart Müller, declined to comment.

The trial continues.