Formula 1’s chief, Bernie Ecclestone, has described himself as “a bit of an idiot” after bringing an end to his bribery case by paying a €100 million (£60 million) settlement to the German courts.
As we reported earlier this week, the billionaire mogul has agreed to a settlement of the case with German prosecutors, with the Munich district court confirming that the 83-year-old will pay the huge settlement, the highest amount ever paid in the country.
The prosecutors agreed to the settlement – a legal avenue in Germany to close down court cases – after taking into consideration Ecclestone’s age and apparent willingness to cooperate with the court proceedings.
Predictably, his defence team has denied that Ecclestone had bought his freedom to avoid a 10-year stint in jail and being stripped of all controlling interests in his Formula 1 empire.
For Ecclestone, the outcome is simply one of relief.
“The bottom line is it’s been three and a half years of aggravation, travelling, meeting lawyers, and God knows what else, so it is good it is out of the way,” he told the Press Association afterwards.
“This trial has been going on for two days a week and it was going to go on until October. When you’re trying to run businesses it’s not easy trying to resolve things when you’re dealing with lawyers.
“In the end what has happened today is good and bad; the good is the judge more or less said I was acquitted, and they [the prosecution] really didn’t have a case.
“So I was a bit of an idiot to do what I did to settle because it wasn’t with the judge, it was with the prosecutors.
“Anyway, it’s done and finished, so it’s all right. I’m contented, it’s all fine. This now allows me to do what I do best, which is running F1.
“Another three months out would have been bad. I’ve been working weekends to catch up with what I’ve been missing during the week. I’ve not really noticed, but it’s probably taken its toll a little bit.”
The irony of Ecclestone paying a handsome fine to avoid bribery charges will not be lost on anyone.
Ecclestone was indicted and put on trial in April over allegations that he had made a $44m bribery payment to a former Bayern LB banker, Gerhard Gribkowsky, as part of the sale of a major shareholding in Formula 1’s commercial rights eight years ago. The payment, it is alleged, was in order to smooth the passage of the sale to CVC Capital Partners, which had guaranteed to keep him as the sport’s chief executive.
Gribkowsky, who was Bayern Landesbank’s chief risk officer – a position that the court conceded Ecclestone was unaware of at the time – was subsequently tried and sentenced to eight-and-a-half years’ jail for tax evasion, breach of duty and accepting bribes.
Ecclestone has always admitted making the payment, but denied it was a bribe, claiming he paid it to muzzle Gribkowsky over threats he had made to report him over irregularities in his tax affairs.
While the court case will officially be abandoned once the payment is received, the speculation over Ecclestone’s long-term future at the helm of Formula 1 is still very much in doubt – despite whatever claims of innocence he may care to make.
The sport remains in flux and has a raft of issues that Ecclestone needs to address – most notably on the commercial side – but it will ultimately be CVC Capital’s decision as to whether he remains best-placed to do that.
Even Bernie can’t buy his way out of that decision…
Image via Independent