Remember Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One chief who was charged with making a $44 million bribe in 2006?
His chances of fighting the charges have improved now that a key piece of evidence against him has been called into question.
The case surrounds a $44 million payment made by Ecclestone and his Bambino family trust to a former chief risk officer named Gerhard Gribkowsky at BayernLB, a German bank. Ecclestone has been accused of bribing Gribkowsky to compel him to sell BayernLB’s 47.2 percent stake in Formula One to the private equity firm CVC.
The case was brought by German media rights firm Constatin Medien, which claims that CVC was Ecclestone’s preferred bidder because it agreed to retain him as F1’s chief executive.
Ecclestone has claimed that the payment was not a bribe. Instead, he says Gribkowsky threatened to make false allegations about him if the money was not paid. He says Gribkowsky threatened to tell HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in the UK that Ecclestone controls Bambino.
This would trigger a UK tax investigation and be damaging to Ecclestone, since the trust is based offshore and Ecclestone is a UK resident. If he was found to have power over the trust, he would liable to pay tax on the money in it to HMRC.
In a recent interview with the BBC’s Newsnight program, however, Gribkowsky’s lawyer gave Ecclestone’s defense some weight by calling Ecclestone ‘the deciding man behind Bambino.’
This assertion calls into question Gribkowsky’s testimony in November in which he stated that he had never seen any sign that Ecclestone exerted or tried to exert control or influence over the Bambino trustees.
The trial ended in December. A verdict is expected within two months.
Julie DiMauro is the executive editor of FCPA Blog and can be reached here.