Bernie Ecclestone denies corruption allegations
MOTORSPORT boss Bernie Ecclestone today appeared at a High Court trial to deny allegations that he had made a ''corrupt bargain'' in a bid to stay at the top of Formula 1 racing.
Mr Ecclestone has been accused of entering into a ''corrupt agreement'' with a banker eight years ago to facilitate the sale of the Formula 1 group to a buyer ''chosen'' by him.
A German media company says it lost out as a result of the deal and has taken legal action against Mr Ecclestone - chief executive of the Formula 1 Group.
But Mr Ecclestone says Constantin Medien's claim ''lacks any merit'' and he denies any ''conspiracy''.
He told a judge in London today that he had paid Gerhard Gribkowsky - who had been a senior official at a German bank - £10 million.
But he said he had made the payment because he was "being shaken down" by Dr Gribkowsky who had insinuated that he would create difficulties with tax authorities.
"I made the payment to Dr Gribkowsky because he said he would shake me down concerning tax arrangements with our family trust ... which would have been very expensive," Mr Ecclestone told Mr Justice Newey. "It was £10 million as it happens."
Philip Marshall QC, for Constantin, suggested that there was "no way" Mr Ecclestone had perceived Dr Gribkowsky as a "threat".
"I am not sure whether it was or whether it wasn't," said Mr Ecclestone. "I was not prepared to take the risk."
He said payments were part of a "very expensive insurance policy".
"I was being shaken down by Gribkowsky," he told the judge. "The reason I made payments to Gribkowsky was to protect myself and my family from the potentially ruinous consequences which might follow if he made false allegations to HM Revenue & Customs."
He added: "I regarded the payments to Gribkowsky as part of a very expensive insurance premium. At the time, I saw no other option. I could not afford to take the risk. He is not the first, nor the last person to try and shake me down."
Mr Ecclestone denied giving a different version of events to journalists or changing his story and added: "Most of these journalists, as you know, really should be closely working with Jeffrey Archer."
Mr Marshall had outlined allegations against Mr Ecclestone at the start of the trial on October 29.
He said Dr Gribkowsky ''assisted'' Mr Ecclestone to facilitate the sale of the Formula 1 Group to a ''purchaser chosen by Mr Ecclestone''.
Mr Marshall suggested that ''corrupt payments'' resulted in a sale of the bank's investment in a group of companies which owned ''lucrative commercial rights'' associated with Formula 1.
He said payments totalling about £27 million were made to Dr Gribkowsky at the instigation of Mr Ecclestone.
Mr Marshall said a ''corrupt arrangement'' was entered into between Mr Ecclestone and Dr Gribkowsky in 2005.
He said Mr Ecclestone benefited financially and the deal allowed Mr Ecclestone to retain a ''position with Formula 1 going forward''.
There had been a ''real risk'' of Mr Ecclestone's removal from his position in the Formula 1 Group, he added.
Mr Marshall said the German bank sold its ''holding'' in the Formula 1 Group to a private equity group called CVC.
He said Mr Ecclestone thought CVC would support his ''continuing role as chief executive'' of operating companies in the Formula 1 Group.
Mr Marshall said Constantin had investment rights in the Formula 1 Group and was entitled to proceeds of any sale.
He said the bank's investment was sold ''without the normal and proper process'' and Constantin lost out.
Mr Marshall said Dr Gribkowsky was given a jail term of more than eight years after being convicted of corruption at a trial in Munich last year.
Lawyers representing Mr Ecclestone have outlined their case to the judge in written arguments and say the claim "lacks any merit" and "is an artificial, manufactured complaint".
The trial continues and is expected to last several weeks.