Ecclestone appears at Gribkowsky trial

Bernie Ecclestone, Singapore GP 2011

Bernie Ecclestone, Singapore GP 2011 

 © The Cahier Archive

Formula 1 commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone today admitted in a Munich court paying banker Gerhard Gribkowsky $44 million which, he said, was to avoid a possible Inland Revenue investigation into his tax affairs.

Ecclestone denied that the payment was a bribe in connection with Gribkowsky's control over the sale of BayernLB's stake in F1, which was sold to CVC Capital Partners in 2006. Gribkowsky is on trial for bribery, embezzlement and tax evasion. Ecclestone himself faces no charges.

The F1 boss said that he had refused to invest in Gribkowsky's property company or to give him a key F1 role, so feared that the banker could retaliate by causing problems telling Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs that Ecclestone was more involved in the running of Bambino Holdings (the family trust controlled by ex-wife Slavica) than he ought to have been.

That, Ecclestone said, could have led to years in court and a possible tax bill in excess of $3 billion.

"I don't think they could ever have proved anything but I couldn't afford to take the risk," he claimed, "simple as that."

Ecclestone denied receiving any specific threat but said that there was an implied one.

"It was like in those gangster films where they say 'I've seen your children go to school. I've seen them leave every day at 9am' and you know, unless you're really stupid, you know that they are serious. I thought maybe I could keep him quiet by paying; stop him doing silly things."

Ecclestone admitted paying $23 million to an Austrian account in Gribkowsky's name, with Bambino paying a further $21 million via companies in Mauritius and the British Virgin Islands.

Ecclestone claimed that Bambino had taken action of its own accord.

"They were probably even more afraid than I was," he said.

Ecclestone claimed that the money he received in return, $41.4, was a bona fide commission on the F1 sale.

Ecclestone also revealed that he had used friend and business partner Flavio Briatore to make his $23m payment.

"I was trying to do some business with Flavio to buy a football club at the time. So I thought he could pay that because he owed me," Ecclestone joked. "Then we bought another club. I was very lucky to get out of it."

Ecclestone is due back in court tomorrow to give further evidence.

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