F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone Rejects Bribery Charges As Trial In Munich Gets Underway
F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone "rejected accusations of bribery as he went on trial Thursday in a case that could threaten his grip on the sport, telling a Munich court that he was blackmailed by a German banker" who received a disputed $44M payment, according to Nesha Starcevic of the AP. Ecclestone said at the beginning of a four-hour personal statement read out in German by his lawyers that he was "'grateful' to be able to give his side of the story" -- though he told judges that "he would answer questions from the Munich state court through his lawyers, rather than personally." The 83-year-old Ecclestone "is charged with bribery and incitement to breach of trust, and could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted." The charges involve a $44M payment to banker Gerhard Gribkowsky, who "is serving an 8½-year sentence for taking the money." Ecclestone "testified during Gribkowsky's trial in 2011 and Gribkowsky is expected to be the main witness during Ecclestone's trial" (AP, 4/24). REUTERS' Keith Weir wrote the case threatens "to break the Briton's decades-long dominance of the motor sport." Prosecutors have charged Ecclestone with bribing Gribkowsky "to smooth the sale eight years ago of a stake" in F1 to private equity firm CVC. While entering the Munich courtroom, Ecclestone said, "I'm confident, the sun is shining." Ecclestone "listened through an interpreter as his lawyer read a lengthy statement in German to the court." The statement "went back to his childhood during World War Two and recalled German bomber raids on the town of Dartford, close to London, before taking the court through his business career and the CVC deal." The case "is expected to run until September" (REUTERS, 4/24). In London, Alice Ross reported the Munich prosecutors bringing the case against Ecclestone "brought a successful case last month against Uli Hoeness, former president of football club Bayern Munich, who was jailed for more than three years for tax evasion." The presiding judge, Peter Noll, "also presided" over Gribkowsky’s court case in '12 (FINANCIAL TIMES, 4/24). In London, Daniel Johnson wrote Ecclestone "is one of sport's great survivors." He "has shrugged off allegations of corruption and controversy before." This time, it "could be the end of the road." If Munich's higher regional court were to find Ecclestone -- who denies all charges -- "guilty, then the subject of his legacy would move from being a live issue to one spoken of in the past tense." For a start, while he "was generous enough to arrange the trial so it takes place largely on Tuesdays and Wednesdays," to suit F1's frenetic schedule, the judge "already seems to be convinced of Ecclestone's guilt." Furthermore, "the 256-page indictment, which paints Ecclestone as a man desperate to retain control at all costs, is incredibly thorough." What the trial means for F1 "in general, however, is less clear." Over the next five months "it will mean a flurry of unwelcome headlines, particularly after the controversy surrounding the new rules." CVC co-Chair Donald Mackenzie "is likely to be called as a witness once more, and while a source close to the CVC board acknowledges that they are comfortable with Ecclestone’s 'colourful' side, and all the baggage that brings, this is not normal territory for a private equity firm" (TELEGRAPH, 4/23).