Formula 1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone’s trial in Munich has ended. German prosecutors have accepted Ecclestone’s offer to make a $100m payment to bring to a close his trial on bribery charges.
“A prosecution of the accused due to bribery is not probable as things stand,” said the court statement. Ecclestone’s defence lawyers said that the arrangement kept his presumed innocence intact.
Ecclestone, who was in court for the decision, went on trial in April, over allegations he bribed former German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky as part of the sale of a major stake in Formula 1 eight years ago.
If found guilty, the 83-year-old could have faced 10 years in prison, bringing to an end his involvement at the helm of Formula 1.
Gribkowsky had already been found guilty of corruption, tax evasion and breach of trust and is serving an eight-and-a-half year sentence. He was convicted by the judge who presided over Ecclestone’s trial – Peter Noll. Ecclestone always maintained his innocence. He said that the payment to Gribkowsky was blackmail, as the former banker had threatened to make allegations to the UK tax authorities.
Under German law, defendants can settle some criminal cases with smaller punishments, such as fines. The legal proviso exists to ease the burden on the courts and deal with cases where judgement could be difficult.
According to Wall Street Journal, “Under the German Code of Criminal Procedure, prosecutors can agree to drop a case in exchange for such conditions as a fine or community work, as long as the “gravity of guilt” doesn’t pose an obstacle.”
Ecclestone’s advanced age and other mitigating circumstances gave grounds for the offer to be accepted, according to the prosecutors.
Ecclestone, 83, told Press Association: “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.
“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.”
Speaking before the decision, Mercedes chief Niki Lauda said: “I would only welcome it [the decision] if Bernie can concentrate on Formula 1 and together with the teams solve the existing problems. If Bernie stops, it would have been a disaster for Formula 1.
“He has built everything up over three decades and is the only one who knows everything — the business, the details of the teams. Everything is in his head.
“If all the allegations are gone from the table, then Bernie has done everything right. Then all the speculation ends. Continuity is very important at the top of Formula 1 for the future.”