Lawyers for Bernie Ecclestone have indicated that the F1 supremo is ready to pay a €25 million settlement to finalise the bribery court case against him.
Formula 1’s supremo went on trial in April, charged with bribery and incitement to breach of trust over claims he paid €33 million to a German banker, Gerhard Gribkowsky, to help broker a sale of the sport’s commercial rights to CVC Capital Partners, the company Ecclestone allegedly favoured in the bidding process.
Gribkowsky was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in the slammer for accepting the bribe, although Ecclestone has continued to insist that the payment was to ward off Grobkowsky disclosing details of the Ecclestone family trusts to the British tax authorities.
If found guilty, Ecclestone could face a 10-year jail term and the loss of his decades-long dominance of the the sport he has invested – and reaped – so much money turning it into the business it is today.
The irony of Ecclestone paying a handsome fine to avoid bribery charges will not be lost on anyone.
Once Ecclestone’s trial was announced, the 83-year-old was forced to relinquish his post as director of the Formula One group at the behest of CVC Capital Partners, although he was kept on as CEO and still very much controls the show. CVC Capital has itself recently moved to sell a substantial slice of their controlling 35% stake in the sport.
Ecclestone’s legal team has now moved to have the court proceedings suspended, claiming a lack of evidence against its client. They also opened the door to Ecclestone being able to pay a settlement amount – to close off the case in lieu of a judgement being handed down.
German law allows the prosecutors to petition withdrawing charges during certain criminal trials if all parties agree to a settlement, although the irony of Ecclestone paying a handsome fine to avoid bribery charges will not be lost on anyone.
The latest twist in this very sorry saga is certainly very odd. Ecclestone doesn’t want to be found guilty – he’d lose his entire empire if he was – but going through this process doesn’t exactly scream ‘innocent man’ either.
Only a ‘not guilty’ verdict will give him some chance of hanging onto control of Formula 1. Why would a supposedly innocent man want to stop a trial that should logically conclude he has no case to answer, unless he believes that the prosecution actually has enough evidence against him? Why would the prosecution entertain the idea of a settlement if it wasn’t 100% confident in Ecclestone’s guilt?
In any case, there is absolutely no guarantee that Ecclestone will be allowed to keep the keys to the empire, even if the outcome of the case rules in his favour. There is growing sentiment that the sport would be better run and more profitable (at least for the teams) were he out of the way. That future isn’t looking quite so rosy for CVC – which has saddled the sport with enormous debt while it siphoned every last penny for its shareholders – and that’s why they’re rapidly working to offload many of their shares to the highest bidder so they don’t get dragged even further into the entire mess.
Image via XPB Images
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