Formula 1 boss Ecclestone indicted on bribery charge

Bernie Ecclestone - file pic
Image caption Mr Ecclestone's motor racing business is a lucrative global venture

German prosecutors have indicted Formula 1 motor racing boss Bernie Ecclestone on a bribery charge.

The charge relates to a $44m (£29m) payment to German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky of Bayern Landesbank, linked to the sale of a stake in F1.

Mr Ecclestone denies bribing Gribkowsky, and says the money was intended to stop the banker from exposing him to a UK tax inquiry.

Mr Gribkowsky was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in jail in Munich.

Speaking to the Financial Times on Wednesday, Mr Ecclestone said: "I have just spoken to my lawyers and they have received an indictment. It's being translated into English."

"We are defending it properly. It will be an interesting case. It's a pity it's happened."

Mr Ecclestone has six weeks to respond to the indictment, Formula One Group said in a statement.

'Silly things'

The charges are related to the 2006 sale of a 47% stake in Formula 1 by Bayern Landesbank, which had acquired it from the bankrupt Kirch media group.

Gribkowsky had been in charge of managing the sale to private equity group CVC Capital Partners.

CVC has since reduced its stake in a series of deals. It has not commented on the indictment.

At his trial last year, Gribkowsky admitted corruptly receiving $41.4m (£26.6m) in bank commissions and a large payment via the Ecclestone family's Bambino Trust.

He maintained he had been paid to undervalue the shares.

But Mr Ecclestone says he paid Gribkowsky to keep him quiet, believing the banker was planning to give false information to the UK authorities about his tax affairs.

Mr Ecclestone said at the time that proving the allegation was false "would have been very expensive for me".

"The tax risk would have exceeded £2bn. I paid him to keep calm and not to do silly things," he said.

Mr Ecclestone has until mid-August to respond to the charges. The court will then decide whether to take the case to trial - it could be heard by mid-September.

He faces a possible jail term if found guilty, something he has previously said would force him to stand down as head of F1.

His lawyer told the Financial Times the indictment was largely based on statements from Gribkowsky, and that Mr Ecclestone intended to dispute these.

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