German prosecutors set to charge Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone over alleged $44m bribe

In 2012, a court sentenced German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky to eight-and-a-half years in prison for taking the alleged payment for organising the sale of a large stake in the sport

Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone is expected to face charges in Germany over an alleged $44m bribe paid to a German banker who organised the sale of a large stake in F1, it was reported.

Sky News said a source had told them that prosecutors in Munich were expected to issue a statement on Thursday confirming the start of legal action, although this could still be delayed or an out-of-court settlement might be reached.

The case centres on $44m (about £27m) payment that Mr Ecclestone made to banker Gerhard Gribkowsky.

In 2012, a German court sentenced Mr Gribkowsky to eight-and-a-half years in prison for taking the alleged bribe.

Mr Ecclestone has persistently denied the money was a bribe, but admitted that he had paid £8m and his Bambino family trust had given the remainder.

In 2011, he told The Independent that the money was payment for work that Mr Gribkowsky had done as a property consultant for the trust.

Mr Ecclestone previously said the payment was made to stop Mr Gribkowsky reporting false allegations about his tax affairs to the Inland Revenue. He claimed that Mr Gribkowsky suggested that 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.

There are other theories.

German media rights firm Constantin Medien has claimed in court that Mr Ecclestone and the Bambino trust paid the money to Mr Gribkowsky to undervalue a 47.2 per cent stake in F1 when it was sold by a German bank to private equity firm CVC in 2006.

Constantin said that in return Mr Gribkowsky 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 said other buyers would have paid more.

Sky News said Mr Ecclestone's trial was understood to be due to start in April. It said the precise nature of the charges was unclear.

CVC declined to comment on the report.

But Christian Horner, head of the Red Bull Racing F1 team, said yesterday that Mr Ecclestone was “absolutely the best and only guy to do what he does, to take Formula One to the global reach that the sport has achieved... it's in all our interests that he's around as long as possible”.

Mr Ecclestone has stepped down as a member of the board of F1's holding company, but will continue to run the sport on a day-to-day basis.