While Bernie Ecclestone emerged semi-victorious from the $140 million lawsuit brought about by Constantin Medien
as a damages claim in London's High Court, the F1 supremo is hardly free from his legal troubles.
The Constantin Medien case was linked to the bribery trial due to take place in Germany from April, insofar as it was the conviction of Gerhard Gribkowsky that opened the door for possible civil suits from unsuccessful bidders for BayernLB's F1 stake. But the court in London was tasked with determining whether the stake was undervalued, and not whether Ecclestone was guilty of paying a bribe.
Yesterday's win was beneficial for the F1 boss' wallet, but the summary judgment is indicative of the problems Ecclestone is likely to face when defending himself against charges of having bribed Gribkowsky – who has already been convicted of receiving a bribe from Ecclestone. The English result has no bearing on the Munich case, but statements that led to raised eyebrows in London are likely to do much the same in Germany.
According to the comments of the presiding judge, Mr Justice Newey, on Gribkowsky's “shakedown” of the 83-year-old:
“Neither Mr Ecclestone nor Mr Mullens identified any specific threat from Dr Gribkowsky. Each instead referred to 'insinuations'. When giving evidence in Germany, Mr Ecclestone said that Dr Gribkowsky 'never specifically stated or threatened that any given event would take place' and that there was no threat along the lines of 'Either you pay or I go the tax office.' In the present proceedings, Mr Ecclestone explained in cross-examination that Dr Gribkowsky never said what he would tell HMRC and accepted that Dr Gribkowsky did not give any details of how he would substantiate any claim that Mr Ecclestone was to be identified with the Bambino Trust.
“The evidence indicates that Dr Gribkowsky is unlikely to have been in a position to give HMRC information that could cause Mr Ecclestone or Bambino any serious difficulties. Neither Mr Ecclestone nor Mr Mullens has identified any such information. More than that, questions relating to Mr Ecclestone's involvement with the Bambino Trust had been raised before, including by BLB. When giving evidence in Germany, Mr Ecclestone said that he had been aware that BLB's lawyers had been trying to make a connection between him and Bambino for the purposes of the litigation about the boards of FOH and FOA and the share in FOA issued to Mr Ecclestone. Had Dr Gribkowsky known anything showing such a connection, it would surely have been deployed in that litigation.”
In some ways, Ecclestone was his own worst enemy, providing testimony which Newey, said made “it impossible to regard him as a reliable or truthful witness.” While his counsel used the combination of age and passage of time to explain any inconsistencies within Ecclestone's testimony, Newey was unconvinced.
“The likelihood is, I think, that Dr Gribkowsky's version of events is broadly accurate,” Newey concluded. “It is consistent with, and in important respects supported by, other evidence, while the evidence given by Mr Ecclestone and Mr Mullens contains inconsistencies and is otherwise unsatisfactory. Further, bribery is far more probable than the only other explanation offered for the Payments, viz. that they were made in response to a 'shakedown'. The blackmail/'shakedown' story is thoroughly implausible. On balance, accordingly, I consider that the Payments represented a bribe.”
Much of Ecclestone's defence centred on his inability to recall specific details of the events in question, or the complex nature of his business affairs that mean many smaller matters are delegated to colleagues and associates. In his witness statements about the payments to Gribkowsky, Ecclestone took to the stand to say:
“I am aware that payments totalling approximately $22.7 million were made to Gribkowsky on my behalf between October and December 2007. I have very little recollection regarding any specific arrangements relating to these payments. I recall that at some stage Gribkowsky told me that he did not want a direct payment coming from me to him or for money to come to him from the UK. For this reason, I asked Flavio Briatore, a friend and business associate who held funds outside the UK and who owed me some money at the time, to pay some money on my behalf to Gribkowsky …. I also recall that I had some contact with Andre Favre, a contact of mine in Switzerland, and that he assisted in arranging the payments. However, although I knew that payments were made on my behalf, I did not know any details about how they were made or see any documents that were drawn up in relation to the payments.”
Despite being aware of these payments, however vaguely, Ecclestone (wittingly or unwittingly) kept his knowledge of them secret from CVC until a February 2011 meeting with Donald Mackenzie in which “Mr Ecclestone said that he had been reminded by a colleague, a Mr Bruno Michel, that he had made payments to Dr Gribkowsky, and he apologised for having forgotten this,” Newey's summary statement read. Unsurprisingly, this led to tensions between the F1 supremo and Mackenzie.
“Mr Ecclestone also told Mr Mackenzie of the consultancy agreement under which he (Mr Ecclestone) had himself received some $41 million from BLB. Mr Mackenzie told Mr Ecclestone that he was extremely unhappy that the arrangement had not been disclosed before, taking the view that that was 'a clear breach of our purchase contract, which required him, Bambino and BLB to disclose all arrangements between themselves that may affect Formula One',” the summary continued.
The window onto the complex business affairs of the labyrinthine collection of companies and trusts that make up the F1 empire was very revealing, but as far as its impact on the German bribery trial goes, the final word belongs to Keith E Oliver, who acted for Constantin Medien in court.
“The determination by Mr Justice Newey that Mr Ecclestone lied when he gave evidence – as did Mr Mullins – is not binding on the German court, so there's no automatic enforcement in that process,” Oliver conceded when interviewed by Crash.net
“I can't speculate what the German court might make of these matters beyond the fact that following an extensive trial and several days of cross-examination the judge has concluded – as you'll see in the chargement and the terms in which he set it out in the chargement – that the claim that Mr Ecclestone was being shaken down, the blackmail contention, the judge said is thoroughly implausible and that the payments were a bribe, with the consequences flowing from that.”
Kate Walker is a senior F1 writer for Crash.net. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, she keeps an eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes Formula One a political melodrama.