A German banker has told a Munich courtroom that he took a $44 million payment from Formula One commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone when brokering the sale of the commercial rights to the sport.
Former BayernLB banker Gerhard Gribkowsky broke his silence in a long-running court case against him on Wednesday, saying that he received $44 million (34.6 million euros) from Formula One string-puller Bernie Ecclestone.
When asked by judge Peter Noll whether the accusations against him were accurate, Gribkowsky described them as "essentially true."
The regional court in Munich also announced on Wednesday that Gribkowsky would probably face a jail term of around eight or nine years for the crime, irrespective of his apparent, partial late confession.
Gribkowsky was the chief risk assessment officer at BayernLB from 2003 to 2008, he brokered the 2006 sale of a share in Formula One's commercial rights to British investment firm CVC Capital Partners.
The money's not in question, rather the motive
Ecclestone had already told the court that he paid the sum to Gribkowsy via intermediaries when giving evidence last November. Ecclestone says that the money was paid to keep the banker quiet, saying that Gribkowsky had subtly threatened him.
"I had no alternative at the time. The only alternative was that the British tax authorities followed a case that would have been very expensive for me," Ecclestone said at the time, in exchange for immunity from prosecution based on his testimony. He could, however, face trial based on evidence proved elsewhere in the case.
Ecclestone also told the court that he did not have any outstanding tax obligations, but claimed that the investigation alone would have cost him far more than the payment to Gribkowsky.
The prosecution alleges that the money was not a bribe to Gribkowsy, but rather a fee paid to the banker to facilitate the sale of the F1 stake at an undervalued price. They allege that Gribkowsky was the one being bribed, being pressured to accept an offer from a preferred business partner of Ecclestone's, rather than choosing the right one for the German bank.
Ecclestone says the payment to Gribkowsky had nothing to do with the sale brokered by the former banker.
BayernLB became the reluctant owners of the F1 stake when German media mogul Leo Kirch filed for bankruptcy and lost his assets in 2002. The 2006 purchasers CVC remain the principal stakeholders, though the group sold part of its share earlier this year and was until recently entertaining the idea of floating the sport on the stock market in Singapore.
CVC employed Ecclestone as a top-level consultant shortly after purchasing F1, paying him to remain the commercial face of the sport on behalf of the new owners. The 81-year-old, who once ran the now defunct Brabham team, still occupies the position.
msh/sej (AP, Reuters)