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SFO Targets F1 Supremo Ecclestone

The U.K. Serious Fraud Office may investigate bribery allegations against Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, left, according to reports from Reuters and others.

Ecclestone, 81, testified in a German court last week that he ‘paid former BayernLB banker Gerhard Gribkowsky to stay quiet and keep tax authorities at bay while acquiring Formula One rights five years ago,’ Reuters said.

F1 is the top class of single-seater car racing sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile.

Gribkowsky is on trial in Germany for taking $44 million from Ecclestone. In return, prosecutors charge, the banker made sure BayernLB’s F1 stake went to Ecclsestone and his companies.

U.K. Attorney General Dominic Grieve has confirmed the SFO’s involvement, according to the Financial Times.

‘The SFO is aware of the allegations against Mr. Ecclestone and is liaising with the authorities in Germany to ascertain if there is a case to answer in the U.K.,’ a Serious Fraud Office spokesman told the Financial Times.

The Telegraph reported today that Ecclestone, a U.K. citizen, told authorities the German banker extorted the payment.

Ecclestone and his family trust, Bambino Holdings, have admitted making the payments but claim they were blackmailed by Gribkowsky who threatened to go to HM Revenue & Customs with evidence that Ecclestone was more involved in the running of Bambino than he was allowed under the law. Neither Ecclestone nor Mullens, until recently a director of Bambino, have been charged with any crime.

Ecclestone testified in Gribkowsky’s trial that a tax investigation into Formula One could have been ‘a disaster’ for him and his companies that could have cost him more than £2 billion pounds, Reuters said.

In 2010, F1 reported revenue of $1.6 billion, according to Autoweek.

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