Bernie Ecclestone looks set to face another round of court dates after German authorities confirmed that he should face trial on bribery charges.
A potential trial scheduled for 2013 was postponed until this year while a panel of judges deliberated on the merits of a case, at the same allowing German media company Constantin Medien to pursue its own claim against Ecclestone through the High Court in London. The outcome of that case is still pending.
Ecclestone was the most recognisable defendant of four accused by Constantin of conspiring to cut it out of a share of the proceeds when CVC bought up BayernLB's stake in F1, and the case now looks set to act as a benchmark for possible future actions being mooted in both Germany and Switzerland.
Early in the seven-week trial, Ecclestone was accused of making a 'corrupt bargain' with banker Gerhard Gribkowsky to keep the value of the stake at a sufficiently low price to attract CVC, a company he knew was open to retaining him as the head of the sport. Ecclestone was accused of paying Gribkowsky a $44m bribe to secure the deal, but has always insisted that the payment – which he does not deny making – was the result of Gribkowsky blackmailing him with the threat of revealing his tax affairs. The German has since been jailed on charges of bribery and tax evasion and is serving an eight-year stretch.
Mr Justice Newey has opted to reserve judgement on the case, which ended in mid-December, and is expected to take several weeks to consider the evidence, and decide whether BayernLB's shares were undervalued as a result of Ecclestone's involvement with Gribkowsky.
The outcome of the hearing could still have repercussions for Ecclestone. The 83-year old had already been indicted on bribery charges by the German courts, while both Swiss authorities and, most recently, BayernLB are known to be considering the possibility of separate actions. The German bank gained access to the High Court documents as it considered its case.
With F1 rights holder CVC holding fire on Ecclestone's future pending the outcome of the various trials, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has come out in support of his close friend, claiming that he remains the best man to head up the sport.
“It all depends upon the outcome,” Horner admitted while talking to reporters at Bloomberg headquarters in London, “but Bernie is absolutely the best and only guy to do what he does, to take F1 to the global reach that the sport has achieved.
“It's in all our interests that he's around as long as possible, [but] that's more of a question for CVC than it is for me.”