Bernie Ecclestone trial 'may loosen his grip on Formula One'
Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has gone on trial in a bribery case that could threaten his grip on the sport.
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 $44 million payment to banker Gerhard Gribkowsky, who is serving an 8.5-year sentence for taking the money.
Ecclestone talked with his lawyers and smiled slightly as he took his place in the Munich state court.
Prosecutors allege the payment was meant to facilitate the sale of Munich-based bank Bayern LB's stake in Formula One to a buyer of Ecclestone's liking. Gribkowsky was in charge of selling that 47% stake in F1 in 2005.
Ecclestone has in the past denied wrongdoing and said he was "shaken down".
Ecclestone gave evidence during Gribkowsky's trial in 2011, and Gribkowsky is expected to be the main witness during Ecclestone's trial, which is scheduled to last until September 16.
Gribkowsky was found guilty of corruption, tax evasion and breach of trust in a trial led by the same judge who is hearing Ecclestone's case, Peter Noll.
Ecclestone's lawyers made clear that they will attack Gribkowsky's credibility and renewed their insistence that the Formula One boss is innocent.
"The alleged bribery did not exist," they said in a written statement as the trial started.
They argued that the indictment is based on statements by Gribkowsky that are "unfounded, misleading and incoherent".
"They do not reflect the actual events of 2005 and 2006 in Formula One and in Mr Ecclestone's life," the lawyers said, adding they would produce new documents at the trial to dispute Gribkowsky's statements.
Ecclestone has stepped down temporarily as a director of F1's holding company pending the outcome of the trial, though he continues to manage the sport's commercial operations on behalf of investment fund CVC Capital Partners, which has a controlling stake in the web of companies which run the commercial side of the sport.
Ecclestone, who built his powerbase in F1 starting in the 1970s, likely would be unable to remain in charge if convicted - even if he avoids a prison sentence.