Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone has revealed that he offered to pay £24.7m in an attempt to prevent him from being charged with bribery in a trial which is under way in Germany.
Prosecutors have accused Ecclestone and his Bambino family trust of paying a £26m bribe to Gerhard Gribkowsky, a former executive at German bank BayernLB, to steer Formula One to his preferred buyer when it was sold in 2006. They believe the bribe was funded with a commission which Ecclestone received from BayernLB for helping to put the deal through.
The commission came to five per cent of the £494m sale price, giving Ecclestone £24.7m. The prosecutors believe that BayernLB made the £24.7m payment to compensate for a £26m bribe.
In June 2012 the prosecutors ruled that the £26m was a bribe and sentenced Gribkowsky to eight and a half years in prison for receiving it. According to the indictment against Ecclestone, in July 2012 his lawyers wrote to BayernLB to offer to pay the £24.7m back. This was rebuffed and in May last year Ecclestone was charged.
Ecclestone says: "I don't know why I offered to pay back the commission. Early on we said [we will do it] if that is what is necessary to get this rubbish out of the way. I didn't say we would pay it back. I said we will pay some back. One of our lawyers spoke to [BayernLB] and said paying back five per cent was too much, it should have been 2.5 per cent."
Ecclestone did not admit any guilt by making the offer and did not do it to absolve himself, but to avoid the hassle of a trial which he now has to attend for several days each week. The indictment states that "through the legal document dated 23 July 2012 it was communicated that the defence for the accused – while maintaining its own point of view – had made an offer to BayernLB to pay back the amount received at the time as a commission including interest."
Ecclestone denies paying a bribe and says that Gribkowsky threatened to make unfounded allegations about his tax affairs if the £26m was not paid. Ecclestone adds that the £24.7m payment was entirely legitimate, as it was given in return for him providing a guarantee that Formula One would not collapse.