Ecclestone denies bribery at start of Germany trial

ESPN Staff
April 24, 2014 « Montezemolo makes more changes at Ferrari | McLaren closing in on title sponsor »
Bernie Ecclestone arrives in court for the first time on Thursday, April 24 © Getty Images

Bernie Ecclestone denied the charge of bribery at the start of his trial in Munich on Thursday.

Ecclestone is accused of paying a $44 million (£26 million) bribe to German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky to help ensure a stake in F1 was sold to a company he favoured, CVC Capital Partners, in 2006. It is reported that Ecclestone could be ordered to pay up to £250 million to avoid going to jail, but that would also mean he would have to admit his guilt. He has always ruled out any suggestions of such a settlement.

Ecclestone's trial, which is expected to run until September, will only be held for two days a week to allow him to continue to maintain a tight grip on the sport. Ecclestone admits making the payment to Gribkowsky but says it was a result of "a sophisticated shakedown" from the banker and denies any wrongdoing, but could face 10 years in jail if found guilty.

A statement read by Ecclestone's lawyer on the trial's opening day said: "The alleged bribery never happened. The prosecution's claims are based on statements by Dr Gribkowsky, which are wrong, misleading and not conclusive."

A report in the Times claims the trial could spell the end of Ecclestone's time as the head of F1. The newspaper says that CVC Capital Partners, the City-based private equity firm which owns Formula One, has been advised by a City law firm that it cannot continue with Ecclestone as chief executive.

The turning point amid all the bribery allegations appears to have come in January when a London judge described Ecclestone as "untruthful and unreliable".

"It's over," a source close to the board was quoted as saying by the newspaper. "In truth, it has been over for a while, but Bernie has been allowed to continue as the face of the sport until this legal advice, which was devastating."

In a hard-hitting editorial, the Times called for him to stand down. "He would be missed by some but is by no means indispensable. No other professional sport expects to get away with the opaque business style that has become the norm under Mr Ecclestone. The time has come for F1 to clean its house."