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Last updated: November 6, 2013 5:04 pm
Bernie Ecclestone did not tell the Formula One board about alleged corrupt payments of $44m to a former German banker because the matter “wasn’t the slightest concern” of board members, the motor-racing supremo told the High Court in London on Wednesday.
Taking to the witness stand in a civil lawsuit brought against him by German media group Constantin Medien, the F1 chief executive agreed he had attended an urgent F1 board meeting in January 2011 after the payments to Gerhard Gribkowsky came to light and that he had told the board that he did not know anything about them.
Mr Ecclestone, 83, and Bambino, an Ecclestone family trust, paid Mr Gribkowsky $44m. Mr Ecclestone’s contribution was £10m. Mr Gribkowsky, who had been acting for former F1 shareholder BayernLB, was last year convicted in a Munich court on corruption charges relating to the payments and jailed for eight-and-a-half years.
Mr Ecclestone repeated to the High Court what he told the German court in evidence at the Gribkowsky trial, saying he was being “shaken down” by Mr Gribkowsky because the banker insinuated he could reveal details about Mr Ecclestone’s tax affairs to UK authorities.
Asked by Philip Marshall QC, for Constantin Medien, why he had not revealed the payments to the F1 board, Mr Ecclestone said: “I didn’t need to tell them. I told them I didn’t know anything about the matter . . .”
The payments to Mr Gribkowsky “wasn’t the slightest concern of theirs”, he told the court. Mr Ecclestone said his silence was driven by his anxiety to dispel the notion that the payments were in any way connected to the sale of F1 shares by BayernLB.
Bernie Ecclestone repeated to the High Court what he told the court in Germany in evidence to the Gribkowsky trial. He said he was being ‘shaken down’ by Mr Gribkowsky because the banker was insinuating he could reveal details about Mr Ecclestone’s tax affairs to the UK authorities
“I was more concerned with this whole matter being kept out of the public,” he told the court.
On the payment he made to Mr Gribkowsky, he said: “What I paid him was a very small amount . . . an insurance policy, quite a cheap insurance policy.”
Constantin Medien claims F1 was undervalued when BLB sold a 47 per cent stake to private equity group CVC in 2005/06 for $820m and that there was a “corrupt bargain” between Mr Ecclestone and Mr Gribkowsky.
The German media group had an interest in the sale of the BLB stake and is claiming damages of more than $140m.
Mr Marshall said Mr Ecclestone’s claim that he was being shaken down by Mr Gribkowsky was untrue. “That is something you’ve fabricated, you’ve made it up,” he said.
Mr Ecclestone replied: “I made up my mind. I needed to keep him quiet.”
Mr Ecclestone, who was indicted in Germany this year over the $44m payments, will find out in the new year whether he will be brought to trial in Germany. He denies those allegations.
The $44m payments are also the subject of a criminal investigation by Swiss authorities, though no charges have been laid.
The case continues.
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