F1 majority owner CVC Capital Partners has launched its own investigation into the ongoing bribery case surrounding the sale of the sport's commercial rights five years ago – ostensibly in a bid to underline its protestation that it never had any knowledge of the alleged corruption.
Back at the beginning of the year, German banker Gerhard Gribkoswky was arrested and thrown into jail in Munich after two 'consultancy contracts' totalling $50 million appeared in two bank accounts in his name in Austria – payment, it has been claimed, for deliberately undervaluing shares in current F1 holding company SLEC, a subsidiary of Delta Topco. The shares were sold by German bank BayernLB to CVC in 2006, and when CVC bought SLEC, Gribkoswky was made a director of Delta Topco.
Although no further arrests have been made, reports in Germany maintain that the $50 million came from one of F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone's companies in the form of a bribe – an accusation that the British billionaire has rubbished and vowed to 'fight in the courts' if necessary [see separate story – click here
CVC has similarly insisted that it has 'no knowledge of, nor any involvement in, any payment to Mr. Gribkowsky or anyone connected with him in relation to CVC's acquisition of F1'.
Now, seemingly in an effort to further distance themselves from the scandal – one that, like so many in recent years, has done F1's reputation on the global stage no favours – CVC and the board of Delta Topco have appointed auditor Ernst & Young and law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer to look into the affair, according to Sky News
Ernst & Young audits the accounts of the sport's direct rights-holder Formula One Administration (FOA), whilst Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has previously worked with FOA on corporate, tax, anti-trust and financing matters, Pitpass
The probe will focus upon 'the circumstances surrounding the takeover of F1 back in 2006', with the two investigators having been instructed to report their findings 'within a matter of weeks' – apparently due to the impending start of the 2011 world championship campaign in less than a month.
adds that the fact that Ernst & Young and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer both already represent F1 strongly suggests that the investigation is voluntary on the part of CVC and Delta Topco in an attempt to prove the veracity of their denials, rather than having been called for by an external authority, which would almost certainly have stipulated an independent review.