Bernie Ecclestone 'lied' about F1 bribe? Bernie says he's innocent UPDATE
Bernie Ecclestone: I have nothing to fear from Formula One court case
|Ecclestone says alleged bribe was a loan payment|
A characteristically bullish Bernie Ecclestone claimed on Tuesday there was “no chance” of Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs opening an investigation into his complex financial affairs, insisting that he had nothing to fear from his turn over the next two days as the star witness in Germany’s biggest post-war corruption trial.
It remains to be seen whether Ecclestone’s optimism is justified.
As Formula One decamps once again to the Middle East and the richest plum of all in the shape of Abu Dhabi there is little doubt where this week’s main showdown takes place and it is not at the glittering $1 billion Yas Marina circuit.
All eyes will be on a packed courtroom in Munich where the murkier side of the sport and the enormous sums of money which pump through it like so much crude oil will come under severe scrutiny.
The stakes, it is fair to say, are huge, both for Formula One and for Ecclestone personally, as the sport’s 81-year-old chief executive is grilled over the alleged payment of a $44 million “bribe” relating to the last sale of the sport five years ago.
Ecclestone may only be a witness in the trial of banker Gerhard Gribkowsky, the former chairman of Formula One’s holding company SLEC – and he was keen to stress on Tuesday that he was travelling to Germany of his own volition – but the potential ramifications of his evidence are massive.
Ecclestone revealed to Telegraph Sport he had paid a part of the money, with Bambino paying the rest, but claimed he was blackmailed by Gribkowsky who had threatened to tell HMRC that he was more closely involved in Bambino than he should have been.
This, Ecclestone said, might have prompted an investigation by HMRC which could have taken years and cost him millions.
HMRC may yet investigate the extent of his involvement in the trust.
The deputy attorney general, Emily Thornberry, told The Sunday Telegraph last weekend that she had raised the matter with the Attorney General’s Office and that they were looking into it.
If the trust is found to have been a sham he could face a tax bill running into the millions.
Ecclestone told Telegraph Sport on Tuesday that he was unworried.
“There’s not going to be an investigation,” he said. “No chance. They [HMRC] have already looked into everything to do with the Trust and I’ve been cleared since about 2008. This has nothing to do with the revenue.”
Ecclestone claims that the $41.4 million he received from BayernLB was signed off by the board and was a legitimate five per cent commission on the sale of the sport to CVC.
The $25 million Bambino received, Ecclestone claims, was to pay back a previous loan to the sport.
Ecclestone’s lawyer, Sven Thomas, said a 200-page legal submission made ahead of Wednesday's testimony makes clear the payment was not a bribe.
2005/06: Gerhard Gribkowsky, chief risk officer for Bayerische Landesbank, oversees sale of the bank’s 48 per cent stake in SLEC, F1’s holding company, to CVC Capital Partners.
Jan 5, 2011: Gribkowsky taken into custody on charges of corruption, tax fraud and breach of trust after being found to have $44 million in an Austrian account. Barbara Stockinger, a spokeswoman for the Munich state prosecutor, confirms it is to do with the sale of BayernLB’s stake to CVC. CVC releases a statement: “The Formula One group and Mr. Ecclestone have no knowledge of, nor any involvement in, any other payment to Dr Gribkowsky nor to anyone connected with him.”
Feb 15: CVC launches a probe into its acquisition of F1.
April: Ecclestone travels to Munich to answer questions from the prosecutor.
July 19: Ecclestone is formally accused, although not charged, by the prosecutor of paying $44 million in bribes to Gribkowsky, and of receiving in return $41.4 million in commissions from BayernLB, with his family trust Bambino Holdings receiving a further $25 million. Gribkowsky charged with “corruption, embezzlement and tax evasion”.
July 21: Ecclestone admits for the first time to Telegraph Sport that he did pay the $44 million, claiming he was blackmailed by Gribkowsky and claiming that Gribkowsky was threatening to cause trouble for him with HMRC. He says the money he received was a commission signed off by the BayernLB board while the $25 million to Bambino was to repay an outstanding loan.
July 27: Ecclestone says he paid only part of the money, with the rest coming from Bambino.
Sept 30: Ecclestone called as a witness in Gribkowsky trial to begin on Oct 24.
Nov 5: With just days to go until Ecclestone’s court appearance, the shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry, reveals to The Sunday Telegraph she has asked the Attorney General to look into the payments made by Ecclestone and Bambino to Gribkowsky. The Attorney General’s Office, which oversees the Serious Fraud Office, confirms it will examine the issues she has raised. Telegraph.co.uk 11/08/11 The documents seen by The Daily Telegraph allege Mr. Ecclestone paid the bribe to ensure he retained control of F1 after its 2006 sale to CVC Partners. Mr. Ecclestone has previously claimed it was to stop false allegations of his tax affairs being reported to HM Revenue & Customs.
The documents allege that it was Mr. Ecclestone who initiated the payment of bribes, offering to open an account in Singapore containing $80m to influence the sale of F1. The document suggests Gerhard Gribkowsky, the German investment banker on trial in Germany, turned down the $80m preferring to set up a series of consultancy agreements to receive the funds.
The allegations come as Mr. Ecclestone takes the stand in Germany on Wednesday to give evidence in the criminal trial against Dr Gribkowsky. The case is running in parallel with civil action being taken in the UK.
Both cases concern allegations that Mr. Ecclestone and his family trust, Bambino Holdings, paid huge bribes to influence the sale of F1.
First a $66m payment was made by German bank Bayern Landesbank to Mr. Ecclestone and his family trust. The two entities then paid Dr Gribkowsky, the Bayern investment banker who ran the sale, $44m as the alleged bribe. Telegraph.co.uk