German state prosecutors formally indicted the Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone on bribery charges in a development that appeared certain to place a question mark over the 82-year-old’s future as international motor racing’s supremo.
State prosecutors in Munich said Mr Ecclestone had been charged with bribery and inciting breach of trust in a case involving the 2005 sale of a sizeable Formula One stake held by Germany’s Bayern LB bank to the private equity firm CVC Capital Partners.
Mr Ecclestone, who has been Formula One boss for 40 years, confirmed that he had been served the indictment. He told the Financial Times: “We are defending it properly. It will be an interesting case. It’s a pity it’s happened.”
He added that it was “ inevitable” the indictment would be issued.
Investigations into the sale of Bayern LB’s Formula One stake were launched in 2011. Last summer Gerhard Gribkowsky, formerly Bayern LB’s chief risk officer, was jailed for eight-and-a-half years for tax evasion, breach of trust and for being in receipt of a corrupt £26.6m payment from Mr Ecclestone.
Gribkowsky claimed that the payment was a bribe from Mr Ecclestone and his family trust Bambino Holdings to ensure that the bank’s 47 per cent stake in Formula One would go to CVC – a UK-based buyout firm – under a deal which ensured that Mr Ecclestone would remain Formula One boss.
Mr Ecclestone has been given until mid-August to respond to the indictment. He has denied the allegations. He told the Munich court trying Gribkowsky in 2011 that he was the victim of a “shakedown”.
He claimed that Gribkowsky had blackmailed him into making the payment by threatening to give false evidence to the UK tax authorities which could have prompted a tax inquiry into the sale of Formula One in 2006. “That would have been very expensive for me. The tax risk would have exceeded £2bn. I paid him to keep calm and not do silly things,” he said.
The German justice authorities are expected to decide whether to summon Mr Ecclestone to appear before a court to answer the charges against him by mid September.