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Ecclestone expected in court
6 November 2013
Bernie Ecclestone is expected to take the stand in London's High Court sometime today [Wednesday] as Constantin Medien's case against him and three fellow defendants continues.
The civil case hopes to determine whether Ecclestone's family trust paid a £27m bribe to now disgraced German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky in a bid to smooth the sale of F1's commercial rights to current owner CVC. Constantin had a financial interest in F1 prior to CVC's involvement, thanks to an agreement that said it would receive ten per cent if the stake was sold for more than $1.1bn. When CVC paid $814m, it received nothing and alleges that Ecclestone conspired with Gribkowsky to undervalue the holding.
Gribkowsky joins Ecclestone, the 83-year old's former lawyer Stephen Mullens and family trust Bambino Holdings as defendants in the case, which is expected to last around three weeks. All are expected to argue that they did not attempt to deliberately defraud Constantin Medien by agreeing a lower price for the stake.
Gribkowsky was jailed for eight years by a German court for accepting the alleged bribe, but Ecclestone has yet to be charged with any wrongdoing, insisting that he was being 'blackmailed' by the German amid threats that he would disclose details of the Briton's tax affairs.
Ecclestone, who was present in Abu Dhabi for Sunday's grand prix, was last week accused of making 'a corrupt bargain' by Constantin's lawyer Philip Marshall, but appears to have already gained a little ground in the argument after the claim against him was reduced by $171m to $140.4m.
"In the light of the claimant's expert report on valuation, it has been reduced to $140.4m - and to have been entitled to that sum under the participation agreement, [BayernLB]'s interest would have had to be sold for $2.493bn," Ecclestone's counsel, Mark Hapgood QC, told journalists last Friday.
CVC, which was happy to retain Ecclestone as the figurehead for its new interest, is said to be monitoring proceedings carefully, with any finding against the 83-year old having the potential to end his 40-year reign as F1 supremo.
The Briton has also been indicted on similar charges by German authorities, and could face proceedings in Switzerland pending the outcome of the London trial, as prosecutors opened an investigation into the allegation that Ecclestone bribed Gribkowsky to keep the value of the stock artificially low.
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