Bernie Ecclestone has this week made his first appearance at the London High Court hearings into the sale of Formula 1’s commercial rights, repeatedly denying that any money has passed to disgraced banker Gerhard Gribkowsky had any impact on the transaction.
The 83-year-old is the defendant in a civil suit brought on by German media group Constantin Medien, which is suing Ecclestone and other defendants for $144m, claiming that Ecclestone sold the commercial rights to CVC Capital Partners at a reduced value when previous shareholder BayernLB sold its stake in 2006.
Constantin had its own interest in the sale, having reached an agreement with BayernLB that it would receive a 10% cut of the sale proceeds should the rights be sold to CVC for more than $1.1 billion.
As it was, CVC paid $814m in the deal, leaving Constantin without a penny and prompting the complaint that it had been dudded in the process. Its claim was that Ecclestone – in cahoots with Gribkowsky – had negotiated a cut-price sale on the condition that he would be retained as the sport’s figurehead.
Gribkowsky, the BayernLB banker who helped broker the deal, was subsequently handed an eight-and-a-half-year stint in jail for accepting bribes totaling $44m, some of which came directly from Ecclestone.
Ecclestone has himself claimed that he was being “shaken down” by Gribkowsky, who he alleged had intimated that he would make “untrue” allegations about Ecclestone’s family trusts to the British tax authorities.
These were claims repeated by Ecclestone during his two-day stint in the witness box, although not before he had some trouble entering the High Court facilities after getting stuck in a revolving door, right in front of a throng of press journalists, camera people and photographers!
“[Gribkowsky] inferred he could and probably would, I’m not sure [he didn’t report me],” Ecclestone said in court, when asked why he didn’t report Gribkowsky’s intimidation to the police.
Ecclestone added that he would often pay blackmailers to simply go away rather than going to the police, even if their allegations were untrue.
“I had made up my mind I needed to keep him [Gribkowsky] quiet. And that’s what happened,” he added.
The case continues.