Ecclestone blackmail claim challenged in bribery trial

Bernie Ecclestone (right) with lawyers Norbert Scharf and Sven Thomas Bernie Ecclestone, right, appeared in court with lawyers Norbert Scharf and Sven Thomas

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German prosecutors have contested claims by Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone that he was blackmailed into paying $45m (£27.5m) to a German banker.

The Munich court was told that Mr Ecclestone was never able to give firm details to back up his claim.

He is accused of bribing the banker to secure the sale of a stake in the F1 business to a company he favoured.

He admits paying Gerhard Gribkowsky but denies any wrongdoing.

Gribkowsky is serving a jail sentence for receiving the payment.

Mr Ecclestone, 83, says he was effectively the victim of blackmail as the banker had threatened to reveal false details of his tax affairs.

But public prosecutor Martin Bauer - who took evidence from Mr Ecclestone after Gribkowsky's arrest in 2011 - told the court: "It was never really clear what form this threat could have taken."

He said the F1 boss had spoken merely of Gribkowsky being able to make things uncomfortable for him without specifying how.

Mr Ecclestone followed Friday's proceedings through an interpreter.

The payments were made between July 2006 and December 2007. Prosecutors say Mr Ecclestone bribed Gribkowsky, who was on the board of Bayern Landesbank, to ensure that a stake in F1 was sold to a private equity group of Mr Ecclestone's choice.

They allege that by securing the sale of the stake to a company Mr Ecclestone favoured, he would remain in charge of Formula 1 and its commercial rights, broadcast payments and sponsorship deals.

If convicted, Mr Ecclestone could face up to 10 years in jail.

He has run the sport for almost four decades, turning it into a huge global commercial success.

Mr Ecclestone is the long-time commercial rights holder of F1, but sold off a majority of the ownership in the 1990s.

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