Bernie Ecclestone's regular trips to Munich could be coming to an end with news that the 83-year-old's lawyers have offered a settlement
that could lead to the end of his involvement in the Gerhard Gribkowsky corruption case. But it might not.
Settlement raises the possibility of a dangerous precedent for Ecclestone, as while Munich may be the most public of the F1 supremo's court cases, it is not alone. In addition to the Constantin Medien case that took place in London this year – which Ecclestone won, albeit at the cost of being described as an unreliable witness by presiding judge Guy Newey, who also said in his closing statement that the 83-year-old had entered into a “corrupt agreement” with Gribkowsky – there are still cases pending with other aggrieved investors in the United States and Switzerland.
While a settlement is not an admission of guilt, lawyers are attracted by the scent of money, and any agreement made with Bayern LB is likely to trigger a flurry of attempts to negotiate more settlements with the Formula One billionaire.
The Munich corruption case centres on Ecclestone's alleged bribing of former Bayern LB banker Gribkowsky, but the bank itself is not the prosecutor. Instead it is the state who have brought the case, as Gribkowsky's position made him a public official. Bayern LB have been waiting on the outcome of the Munich case to determine whether or not to press their own suit for damages.
Which is what makes the proposed settlement interesting. Ecclestone's defence team have offered the sum – said to be £20 million – to Bayern LB, but even if the bank choses to accept (and there is no guarantee of that, a previous settlement offer having been turned down in 2012), the Munich prosecutors are free to press ahead with their case, which centres on whether or not the F1 boss was guilty of bribing a public official.
That Ecclestone's lawyers are willing to consider settling even with the risk of an ongoing trial hanging over their heads is an indication in their confidence that the case is currently going their way. Reports from Munich in recent months have been increasingly positive for the British defendant, and in Budapest the paddock whispers spoke softly of an Ecclestone looking certain to weather this storm.
But there was also talk of Daimler getting nervous about their corporate compliance rules at a board level, with meetings said to have been held discussing the viability of their on-going involvement with a sport whose de facto boss is spending as much time in the courtroom as he is in the paddock. Counter-chatter spoke of an Ecclestone getting ready to step down while the choice as still his, succeeded not by one individual, but by a group of three.
By Kate Walker
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.