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F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone rejects bribery charges as trial gets underway
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Posted By: James Allen  |  24 Apr 2014   |  4:36 pm GMT  |  48 comments

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.

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48 Comments
  1. Gaz Boy says:

    I wonder if Mr E will ask his “friends” Mr Blair and Mr Brown to provide a character witness, eh? Something about a nice donation or something, circa 1997?????????
    That’s one thing Mr E has in common with Jezza Clarkson – they both have contempt for men called Tony, Gordon and Alistair!

    1. Sebee says:

      Actually, I’m with James on this one in a big way. I would like to see Max Mosley testify as a character witness. I miss him. Damn it, I promissed myself I wouldn’t get emotional.

      1. Rupert Suren says:

        I think that Bernie’s team will avoid calling Max who was left hanging out to dry by his old mate when the proverbial hit the fan regarding his fun and games. It was a disgraceful piece of distancing by Ecclestone towards a man who probably helped him make his large fortune. Come back Max.

  2. Jez Playense says:

    Bye bye Bernie, thanks for (most) everything, see yourself out amigo!

  3. Steve Cobby says:

    James,
    Your last paragraph got me. Only two days a week so Ecclestone can continue to run F1? Seems like he’s already controlling the German legal process.
    Perhaps if he goes sick a few times he could drag this on for a couple of years. Unbelievable.

    1. Sebee says:

      You know, this F1 thing is really starting to look like Seinfeld.

      Bernie as Jerry
      Max/Todt as George
      Who is the Kramer of F1?

      It was a great ride, plenty of bizzaro stuff, and while Jerry is not an orgy guy as we learned, turns out Max is. And it will all come to and end exactly the same way, in court over some trivial infraction.

      1. Random 79 says:

        LDM?

        Bursts in unexpectedly and leaves just as fast ;)

      2. Sebee says:

        Good one!

      3. TGS says:

        I think it’s that tall guy that leads the drivers to the podium, no high hair though.

      4. Harvey says:

        I vote for Briatore as Kramer

  4. goggomobil says:

    Bernie Ecclestone no if or buts,he’s “Gonski”!
    CVC hedge Fund, are very questionable in all this,they have continued with Bernie employment
    A very strong perception exist Mr D.Mackenzie as a CEO of CVC knew what business Bernie was in to,and as such should be investigated perhaps MR Gribkovsky will bring some light in to it,one must never forget the fish begins to smell from the head.
    It’s no wonder L.d Montezemolo,Ronn Dennis and late arrival Niki Lauda are smelling the Rat!

  5. franed says:

    “The trial will sit only two days a week, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, in order to allow Ecclestone to run the F1 business.”

    How terribly civilised!
    Still this is the court that accepts payoffs on behalf of the state. Really just a court for the ultra rich!

  6. Appreciate the last two articles leading up to the trial’s initiation. Tried to access the referenced Financial Times article, however that apparently requires signing up for a service which one may not desire. Is there any opportunity to access the article without signing up to become a “customer” of that franchise? Thanks much.

    1. Peter Freeman says:

      Also the Telegraph in the ‘news’ section of your blog James is no longer accessible without a subscription. Perhaps it’s time to drop them from the list as they are not paying you to advertise their subscription services which is all your posts of Telegraph stories does.

  7. Stephen Taylor says:

    Bit off topic James but have you stopped doing your JA on F1 podcasts?

    1. Random 79 says:

      James wrote a comment not long ago saying there were no plans.

  8. Mike Martin says:

    If things go bad for Bernie will there actually be jail time or just a fine? Or can he suddenly get ill(fake) and the trial has to be postponed time after time while Bernie is counting his final days in luxury with his servants?

    Makes me wonder whose pockets are loaded with cash after this trial. If things go bad there is always someone that’s benefits.

    1. Andrew Carter says:

      He can face up to 10 years in jail.

      1. Sebee says:

        Sounds to me like it is time to consider real estate options in non-extradition countries. Just as a Plan C.

      2. Random 79 says:

        Plan A being digging a tunnel and trying to jump a barbed wire fence on a motorcycle.

        Plan B being covering his body in tattoos detailing a convoluted escape plan that lasts about two years more than it should.

        Yes, Plan C looks like the best option :)

      3. F430-Fox says:

        He is 83 years old. Not many 83-year old people go to jail unless convicted for a capital offence. It doesn’t mean he won’t go unpunished though if found guilty – but I doubt he would really end up spending any time behind bars.

    2. Alex says:

      Well, I saw a couple of weeks ago that Berlusconi (77 years old) will not go to jail for tax fraud, instead he will work with incapacitated elderly people at a care home for a year one day each week. Yes germans are not italians, but you can expect something like a fine, I don’t think jail is an option in this case.

      1. Mike Martin says:

        Wow, that’s insane….

  9. flesh says:

    Bernie ecclestone may or maybe not guilty of bribery and corruption he may or maybe not the single most morally bankrupt person who has represented any sport apart from don king but the reality is what he has done for formula 1 can and must not ever be underestimated without his vision, commitment and single minded determination although most of this was self serving and for nothing more than profit anyway forgive me I digress the point Im trying to make is formula 1 needs Bernie a lot more than he needs formula 1 and when that day comes that mr ecclestone is no longer the autocrat at the helm of a most powerful empire I truly fear for the sport I so love and enjoy

    1. Ben says:

      I don’t think F1 needs Bernie at all – I think Bernie has taken F1 backwards.

      1. flesh says:

        believe me if the powers that be in formula 1 thought for a single moment that mr eccelstone was not taking there sport into the global market and keeping it there and allowing them to profit from it and profit it from it enormously he would not be there Bernie has done more for formula 1 albeit with a huge dose of moral,and financial, terpitude than anyone has done for any sport you don’t have to like or respect Bernie ecclestone but you cannot ignore what he has done for sport of formula 1

      2. Ben says:

        F1 was never about profiteering – Bernie took it there and in doing so took it backwards. I used to enjoy the traditional race tracks but the new race tracks are absolute crap. F1 racing was better before he entered the show.

      3. flesh says:

        If formula was not about profit and people having there pockets lined why has there been so much scandal surrounding formula 1 and why is Bernie embroiled in his current court case and the one previously it should not be this way but when you have something that is as universally popular as f1 you will always find greed and corruption

  10. Nigel (USA) says:

    James, you’re quoting some guy called “Thomas” but you don’t say who he is……

    1. James Allen says:

      Sven Thomas, he’s mentioned in the piece

  11. sennaQLD says:

    Flav as Kramer

  12. Kenneth M'Boy says:

    How brilliant of Bernie. Force the trial to last almost the entire season, thus when we sit through some dull races there will always be intrigue and innuendo that keeps Formula One on the front page. What a businessman, bravo. Now all be needs to do is insert Eddie Irvine as his interim successor and Formula One would continue on as the F1 ‘circus’ we just can’t get enough of.

  13. john says:

    Bye Bernie,
    don’t let the door hit ya in the ass on the way out.

  14. Torchwood Five says:

    I hope Bernie gets through this okay.

    1. Scott D says:

      Why, do you have proof that he is innocent?

  15. David in Sydney says:

    There’s nothing as eccentric as an ageing billionaire… he’s incorrigible… if you’d ever read one of his biographies you’d realise that they broke the mould when the made him… I am not sure the world could stand a second Bernie but our world was a better place (mostly) because of him.

  16. David in Sydney says:

    But I am just thinking why was Bernie so desperate to keep a hold of F1?

    He’s smart enough and outrageous enough to have started his own World Championship just to spite the banks after taking their money ( a lot of money) and wrestling Ferrari from their clutches for good measure.

  17. David in Sydney says:

    OK, I admit, I’m a fan of dear old Bernie and would be struck dumb, smiling like a Cheshire cat if I’d every got to meet the little tacker.

    He makes most of us look like we’ve wasted our lives.

    1. Scott D says:

      If that is your definition of what life is all about then I’m glad I wasted mine…

      1. David in Sydney says:

        I am speaking generally; he’s had a full and adventurous life and it’s not over yet!

        :-)

      2. Scott D says:

        I won’t argue with that.

  18. Peter Spiers says:

    Having recently read the ‘No Angel’ book about Bernie’s life I wouldn’t have any sympathy for the man if he finds himself in prison at the conclusion of this trial.

    1. David in Sydney says:

      Must get a copy of that book. Never read it.

  19. Clarks4WheelDrift says:

    I’m not worried for F1.

    I mean, not that I’m comparing things though, but there are plenty of movies with top Mafiosa godfather bosses still running things from behind bars.

    All they needed was to pay off the guards so they could get some quality mamma’s spag bol ingredients, decent red wine, the goomah to turn up now and again and communication to their guys on the outside.

    It’ll be all good no matter, …capish.

    (That is as long as whoever owns F1 isn’t too desperate to ppv or otherwise monetise it, killing the audiences in key countries leading to manufacturers pulling out)

  20. kenneth chapman says:

    the world needs more bernies insofar as he was a supreme[still is, i think] showman, entrepeneur, businessman whatever. nothing bland and everyday about him.

    yes, he does sometime appear to go over the top but i’m sure that he takes great delight in stirring things/people up.

    i admire people who make it largely on their own and take all the risks. saying that, i don’t condone any actions that could be found to be criminal. that is the risk he has taken and he will get whatever is coming. apart from that…best of luck.

    1. flesh says:

      I find it odd that most people who have a propensity to launch a verbal attack against sir Bernie whoops sorry my mistake Bernie are those who have nothing to do with f1 or the people in f1 in my experience the people directly involved in the sport have an awful lot of love and respect for him and if the worst happens and he finds himself becoming somebody’s wife in prison he will not be short of sympathy and well wishers from the f1 fraternity I also believe formula 1 will enter a period of great uncertainty if not total bloody chaos formula 1 needs a king and a ruler not a committee or governing body so who will be king ?

  21. aveli says:

    he could walk. he hasn’t been found guilty yet.

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