In the latest twist in the current corruption scandal gripping the world of F1, it has emerged that Bernie Ecclestone has for the first time been formally accused of bribing German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky during the sale of the sport's commercial rights five years ago.
It is alleged that Gribkowsky – then chief risk officer at Bayerische Landesbank (BayernLB), and the man who oversaw private equity firm CVC Capital Partners' purchase of the state-owned German bank's 48 per cent stake in F1 owners SLEC Holdings back in 2006 – accepted a bribe from Ecclestone to push the deal through without updating the valuation of BayernLB's shares in the sport, thereby making them cheaper than they would otherwise have been. Following the sale, CVC installed Ecclestone as its chief executive.
In return for his complicity, claims Munich's state prosecutor, two bribes disguised as consulting contracts totalling $44 million (£27.3 million) were paid into an Austrian company in Gribkowsky's name by somebody identified only as 'Bernard E'.
At around the same time, Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive Ecclestone received $41.4 million (£25.4 million) in commissions from Gribkowsky on behalf of BayernLB, with the British billionaire's family trust Bambino Holdings benefitting from a further $25 million (£15.5 million), reveals The Daily Telegraph
'The payment [from Ecclestone to Gribkowsky] was disguised by two fake consulting contracts with mailbox companies in Mauritius and the British Virgin Islands,' read a statement from the Munich prosecutor. 'The accused (Gribkowsky) did not pay tax on the funds in Germany, even though he had unlimited tax liability there. These payments would not have been asked for were it not for the bribes to be paid to the accused. The Bayerische Landesbank incurred damages of almost $66.5 million through the conduct of the accused.”
Gribkowsky has remained in Munich's notorious Stadelheim prison since his arrest on 5 January, and is expected to go on trial this autumn on charges of corruption, embezzlement and tax evasion; if convicted, he faces up to ten years in jail. There has of yet been no public statement from him on the matter.
It is not known if Ecclestone will similarly have to stand trial, although the likelihood of that will in all probability depend upon the outcome of the Gribkowsky case. The 80-year-old has been adamant from the outset that he had no knowledge of any bribe and that he has done nothing wrong, and he has co-operated with the prosecutor throughout. CVC has likewise denied all knowledge of the payments – and has recently been linked with selling F1 on again in the near future.