F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone has for the first time publicly admitted that he did indeed pay $44 million (?27.3 million) to German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky during the sale of the sport's commercial rights to CVC Capital Partners five years ago - only he is adamant that the money was not a bribe.

As chief risk officer at Bayerische Landesbank (BayernLB), Gribkowsky oversaw the sale of the state-owned German bank's 48 per cent stake in F1 owners SLEC Holdings to private equity firm CVC back in 2006. Munich's state prosecutor alleges that in doing so, he 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.

In return for his complicity, the prosecutor contends, two bribes disguised as 'fake consulting contracts' totalling $44 million - on which he did not pay tax - were paid into an Austrian company in Gribkowsky's name by somebody identified only as 'Bernard E'.

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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) [see separate story - click here].

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 embezzlement, tax evasion and receipt of corrupt payments for costing BayernLB as much as $66.5 million; if convicted, he faces up to ten years in jail.

Ecclestone remains under investigation, but has consistently maintained that he has done nothing wrong and has vowed to clear his name - and he has now revealed that he paid Gribkowsky the money after the latter threatened to cause him trouble with Britain's tax authority the Inland Revenue.

Having hitherto kept quiet on the matter at the request of prosecutors, the British billionaire has now told The Daily Telegraph that Gribkowsky had suggested he could make life difficult for him by highlighting irregularities with his offshore family trust Bambino and 'threatened that he was going to say I was running it'. Ecclestone insists he 'never had anything to do with the trust in any shape or form'.

At the time, he had been transferring shares in F1 to the trust in an effort to avoid his then wife Slavica - a non-domicile - having to pay inheritance tax in the event that anything happened to him. Ecclestone is adamant that the respective payments were not linked.

"The Revenue obviously had to check everything," he explained. "It took five years going through that. I didn't deal with it. The trust had to show it was correct. The taxation people in England at the time were in the middle of settling everything with the trust, and the last thing you need is for them to start thinking something different.

"[Gribkowsky] was shaking me down. He never said to me, 'if you don't give me this, I will say that'; he left me with the fact that he could do it or not, and I didn't want to take a risk. Nothing was wrong with the trust - nothing at all.

"I never bribed anybody or paid any money in connection with the company. I got five per cent for the sale of the company. Bayerische Landesbank approved the sale and the commission, which was cheap. I should have got more because for that sort of deal, a bank would have charged a lot more. There were no secrets."

Ecclestone added that his lawyers advised him, 'better pay' since 'they said, 'I tell you what would happen...the Revenue would assess you, you would have to defend it and you would be three years in court and it would cost you a fortune' - and he has stated that Gribkowsky asked for the money to come from Mauritius and the British Virgin Islands as 'he wanted to be paid so it didn't look like it came from me and didn't look like it had come from England'.

Ecclestone is due to attend the N?rburgring today ahead of this weekend's German Grand Prix, and the scandal comes as negotiations continue regarding the 2013 Concorde Agreement. It is rumoured that CVC is looking for a way to sell the sport on again - potentially to Rupert Murdoch's troubled News Corp empire - but without Ecclestone at the helm, its value would decrease significantly, and unless the teams are all signed-up and on-board, too, that sale would become very difficult indeed. It is arguably the teams, ultimately, who hold the key to F1's future.

"The teams are working together, and this sport isn't going anywhere without the teams," FOTA chairman Martin Whitmarsh had pronounced earlier this month [see separate story - click here]. "If we stay together, we can control the direction of this sport - and we're not trying to do that for any other reason than what's in the best interests of the sport."