Bernie Ecclestone’s first day in court in Munich saw a joke about his marital status and a robust denial of the charges he faces.
He is on trial for bribery and aiding and abetting breach of trust in a case relating to the 2006 sale of Bayern LB’s shares in Formula 1 to CVC Capital Partners. According to a Financial Times reporter in court, Ecclestone’s lawyers read a statement which began with a reference to the threat from German bombers during Ecclestone’s childhood. The F1 commercial boss was born in 1930.
Prosecutors in Munich, who have been working to prepare this trial for two years, accuse Ecclestone of paying Gerhard Gribkowsky, formerly of Bayern LB, almost £30 million in bribes to ensure that he sold his bank’s shares to Ecclestone’s preferred bidder in order that Ecclestone could stay in charge of the sport he has built up over the last 40 years. CVC paid $830 million for Bayern LB’s shares.
According to a statement issued by Ecclestone’s legal team, “Mr. Ecclestone defends himself against the accusations of the prosecutors and denies them.
“The alleged bribery never happened. The charges are based on statements by Dr. Gribkowsky that are incorrect, misleading and incoherent.
“The real course of events does not support the accusations.”
According to the BBC’s Richard Conway, Ecclestone’s lawyer Sven Thomas highlighted an issue that the prosecution will have to deal with, namely the rejection by Gribkowsky of an offer to introduce a potential purchaser of Bayern LB’s 47% stake in the F1 business to him,
“The allegations in their argument of an agreement in April/ May does not comply with a letter from Gribkowsky at the end of June where Bernie offered a purchaser,” Thomas said.
“This was rejected by Gribkowsky in rather a rude way, in the way of “don’t meddle into the affairs of the shareholders – keep to your own business”. So that’s something the prosecution has to deal with.”
Gribkowsky will appear as a witness during the trial as will Ecclestone. Around 40 witnesses are expected to testify, including people from the F1 world as character witnesses for Ecclestone. It will be interesting to see whether his lawyers call his old friend and ally Max Mosley, for example.
At the start of proceedings there was a lighthearted moment as Ecclestone cleared up confusion over his marital status,
“I like to remember the divorce part,” the 83 year old wisecracked.
The trial will sit only two days a week, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, in order to allow Ecclestone to run the F1 business. It is expected to end around the time of the Italian and Singapore Grands Prix in September.