F1’s sidelined supremo Bernie Ecclestone has survived a London High Court hearing brought on by German media group Constantin Medien.
The company launched an £85 million suit against the Englishman amid claims it suffered a financial loss during the sale of the sport to CVC Capital Partners in 2006.
In a case that has run sporadically since late October, lawyers for Constantin Medien argued that the eventual sale of Bayern LB’s shares to CVC was done at a grossly undervalued price, which prevented them from receiving a slice of the sale proceeds under a separate deal that had been negotiated ahead of the sale.
They also claim that the deal was brokered off the back of an allegedly corrupt payment made by Ecclestone to Bayern LB banker Gerhard Gribkowsky – who is currently serving an eight-and-a-half year jail sentence over bribery charges – to ensure the sale went to a buyer of his choice.
In turn, Ecclestone’s defence had argued that the payment made to Gribkowsky was simply because the German banker had tried to ‘shake him down’, threatening to reveal evidence to the British tax authorities that a host of Ecclestone family trust funds were in fact being managed by Ecclestone himself.
In a ruling that favoured both sides of the case, Mr Justice Newey concluded that Ecclestone’s payment to Gribkowsky was indeed corrupt, but that Constantin Medien couldn’t successfully claim damages.
“The payments were a bribe,” he said in his ruling.
“They were made because Mr Ecclestone had entered into a corrupt agreement with Dr Gribkowsky in May 2005 under which [he] was to be rewarded for facilitating the sale of BLB’s shares in the Formula One group to a buyer acceptable to Mr Ecclestone.
“Even … making allowances for the lapse of time and Mr Ecclestone’s age, I am afraid that I find it impossible to regard him as a reliable or truthful witness,” he added, rather tellingly.
The ruling will do little to assist Ecclestone’s defence strategy in a separate case that is about to get underway in the German courts, where he will stand trial over allegations of corruption after Munich prosecutors successfully petitioned for the 83-year-old’s indictment.
Ecclestone was forced to relinquish his post as a director of the Formula 1 group when the indictment charges were handed down last month.
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