F1 bribery trial 'will be amusing' - Ecclestone
Bernie Ecclestone says he is prepared to testify in a trial which will take place at London's High Court in October concerning a $44m (£27.3m) bribe he allegedly paid to German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky to steer the sale of Formula One to current owner, private equity firm CVC.
|Ecclestone maintains his innocence|
The case has been brought by Constantin Medien, a former part owner of F1, which claims that Mr. Ecclestone and Mr. Gribkowsky conspired to undervalue F1 when it was sold to CVC in 2006 for $1.7bn.
"I'm prepared to give evidence in court and there will be a few others [who do so] as well," said Mr. Ecclestone. "I wish they would bring it forward. It's going to be amusing."
Mr. Gribkowsky was chief risk officer of German bank BayernLB which sold a 47.2pc stake in F1's parent company SLEC Holdings to CVC.
Following the sale Mr. Gribkowsky received $44m from Mr. Ecclestone and his family trust. In June last year the former banker was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for corruption, breach of trust and tax evasion.
Prosecutors in Germany ruled that the money was paid to Mr. Gribkowsky so that he would wave through the sale to CVC which was allegedly Mr. Ecclestone's preferred choice as it had agreed to retain him as F1's chief executive.
Mr. Ecclestone has admitted paying the money but denies it was a bribe. He says that Mr. Gribkowsky threatened to tip off HM Revenue & Customs with false details about his tax affairs if the money was not paid.
Mr. Ecclestone has not been charged with any wrongdoing in Germany but Constantin Medien has filed a civil suit against him in the UK.
It claims it lost out because BayernLB's stake alone was worth $2.8bn but Mr. Gribkowsky did not investigate other bidders since he had received a bribe to sell to CVC.
Constantin owned a 16.7pc stake in F1 which had a balance sheet value of €204m. However, this was sold to BayernLB in 2003 for just €8.5m.
In return for Constantin agreeing to sell its stake for a low valuation, the bank committed to a profit share agreement. If BayernLB had sold its F1 stake for more than $1bn then Constantin was due to get around 10pc of the amount above that threshold.
CVC only paid $839m for the stake and Constantin claims that it lost $171m because it was undervalued.
Mr. Ecclestone denies that F1 was undervalued and claims that the lawsuit is being driven by Constantin shareholder and board member Dieter Hahn.
"This is a case where he is saying because of the actions that allegedly took place he lost money. Because the shares were sold cheap. His problem is people from the bank said the shares weren't sold cheap...In the end CVC gave a very good price for the shares."
During Gribkowsky's trial Kurt Faltlhauser, who headed BayernLB's administrative board from July 2002 until July 2005, said "the price we were offered by CVC was surprisingly high and it came as a great relief."
Former BayernLB management board member Dieter Burgmer added that "BayernLB's management board regarded the net proceeds from the sale of the Formula One stake to CVC as very attractive."
Reflecting this, BayernLB announced a valuation yield of €328m in its 2006 results and stated that the sale of the F1 shares "decisively contributed to the positive result."
Mr. Ecclestone says that he has been approached with an offer to settle the case but it has been rebuffed.
"All this is about finding a way to get money. It is as simple as that...Dieter Hahn had some intermediary, who is a friend of ours, to talk to me about 'you know you should settle, you don't want to go to court'. I'm not settling. The judge will settle the case."
The trial is expected to take up to five weeks to be heard. Constantin's representative, Keith Oliver of Peters & Peters, declined to comment. Telegraph