A defiant Bernie Ecclestone has insisted that he has 'nothing to hide' and consequently 'nothing to worry about' in the banking furore threatening to erupt at the very highest levels in F1 – as he blasted of his alleged nemesis: 'If he wants to incriminate me, he would have to tell lies!'
The grand prix paddock has been abuzz of late with talk of a scandal surrounding the sale of the sport's commercial rights five years ago – one in which Ecclestone himself has been seriously implicated, formally accused by a Munich prosecutor of bribing Gerhard Gribkowsky to the tune of some $44 million (£27.3 million) disguised as two 'fake consulting contracts', in return for the German banker deliberately undervaluing the F1 shares being sold by Bayerische Landesbank (BayernLB) to current majority owners CVC Capital Partners.
It is an accusation that Ecclestone fiercely denies, contending rather that he paid Gribkowsky the money after the latter threatened to cause him trouble with Britain's tax authority the Inland Revenue [see separate story – click here
The Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive has revealed that Gribkowsky had suggested he could make life difficult for him by highlighting irregularities with his offshore family trust Bambino Holdings 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' and was at the time in fact endeavouring to disassociate himself from it, and he claims that he paid Gribkowsky the money in order to avoid a lengthy and costly investigation by the Inland Revenue at a sensitive time.
The 80-year-old has been careful not to mention the word 'blackmail', although many have been left wondering why he was so willing to cough up such a considerable sum of money if he did indeed have nothing to hide. As he faced reporters at the Nürburgring, however, Ecclestone was his usual feisty and combative self, in no mood to back down from confrontation – or a fight.
“I have nothing to hide,” he is quoted as having said by The Daily Telegraph
, admitting that he has elected to speak out now after months of holding his tongue since 'the German prosecutor put out a press release this week' and thereby reasoning, 'if they can talk, why can't I?'
“You know, it's a very strange system here. If someone wants to prosecute you, the prosecutor comes out and says what he thinks you've done. He then gives it to a court. The court will look at it and say, 'this is a load of --------' or they will say, 'now we charge you'. They haven't charged me.
“Let me tell you something. If I said to the Revenue today, 'I know you're doing a bit of moonlighting', they would come and look at you. They would have to – same as if I made a complaint to the police. How could he (Gribkowsky) incriminate me? If he wants to incriminate me, he would have to tell lies.”
Going on to assure that CVC Capital Partners are unperturbed by the international corruption investigation centring firmly upon their purchase of the sport's commercial rights, Ecclestone did concede to one error of judgement – he should not have yielded to Gribkowsky's demands.
“So many things in life are hindsight,” he concluded. “So many things we all wish we hadn't done. It's not my style to have anyone threaten me. Believe me, in my life I have been threatened properly, but in this case [my lawyers] advised me to pay up. Don't worry, though. I have nothing to worry about.”