Lawyers for Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone reiterated today he had not bribed a German banker during the 2005-6 sale of a stake in the motor racing business, after a newspaper reported he had been charged by prosecutors.
Prosecutors in Munich have completed an investigation into Ecclestone and German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported on Wednesday they had charged the 82-year-old Briton, who has turned the sport into a global money spinner over the past three decades, with bribery and inciting others to a fiduciary breach of trust.
"The documents with the charges from the Munich prosecutor's office have not yet been received by the defense," German law firm Thomas Deckers Wehnert Elsner said, acting for Ecclestone.
"Therefore we cannot provide a statement. The defense sticks to its view that Mr. Ecclestone has neither committed bribery nor played any part in committing a fiduciary breach of trust," added the firm, based in the German city of Duesseldorf.
The Munich prosecutor's office declined to comment on the Sueddeutsche Zeitung report. On Monday, it said it had finished its investigation, but declined to comment on what it might do next.
Under the German legal system, once a preliminary investigation has been completed, prosecutors need to decide whether to press ahead with charges or drop the matter. Prosecutors could also drop the proceedings in exchange for a "non penal payment."
At issue is whether Ecclestone bribed a German banker in a business deal in which lender BayernLB sold a 48 percent stake in a Formula One holding company to CVC, a private equity investor which Ecclestone was keen to see as a new shareholder.
Ecclestone made payments to Gerhard Gribkowsky, BayernLB's former chief risk officer, who has since been jailed for tax evasion. BayernLB had ended up with the Formula One stake following the bankruptcy of the media empire of Leo Kirch. BayernLB assigned Gribkowsky with the task of hiving it off.
In June last year, Ecclestone denied the payments to Gribkowsky amounted to bribes. Instead, he told a Munich court in November 2011 that he paid Gribkowsky to "keep him quiet" after the German put him under pressure over his tax affairs, and not to smooth the sale to CVC.
CVC owned a 63 percent stake in Formula One but has since cut that to around 35 percent in a series of deals.
Ecclestone said last month that the company behind Formula One could be floated in Singapore at the end of this year.