The talk in Hockenheim

According to widespread reports in the German newspapers the Munich prosecution service is preparing an official investigation into Bernie Ecclestone’s involvement in the Gribkowsky Affair. The Prosecution Service itself is saying nothing.

The investigation is, however, entirely predictable after the recent comments by the judge when sentencing Gribkowsky to eight and a half years in jail. In fact, it is fair to say that the Bavarian prosecutors do not really have a choice, as it is their duty to investigate any matter as soon as an allegation of criminal activity has been raised. The reports in Germany suggest that the prosecution service has completed an eight-hour interview with Gribkowsky during which he repeated the same claims as he made in his confession in court, admitting bribery, breach of trust and tax evasion and alleging that Ecclestone paid him a $44 million bribe. Ecclestone has denied this and says that Gribkowsky was trying to get money from him to not report the F1 boss to the British tax authorities.

The big question in F1 circles is what happens next. If there are “on the record” allegations against Ecclestone, the most likely course of action is that the prosecutors will urgently seek an interview with him. This could be in Munich or, possibly, at Hockenheim this weekend. The prosecutors will then act according to the answers that Ecclestone gives them. They could, in theory at least, arrest him on the basis that someone with their own long-range private jet presents a serious flight risk. Gribkowsky was taken into custody after his meeting with prosectors because they feared that he would run away to a country without extradition agreements with Germany. As a result he remained in jail for over a year while the investigation was completed. Ecclestone has said that he will go to Germany if asked to do so, and continues to say that he has nothing to fear. However there is a risk that the prosecutors will have a different view and if they can convince a court to issue an arrest warrant Ecclestone could be jailed pending the outcome of the investigation. Not going to Germany is obviously an option, given the risks involved, but that would not look good. In that scenario the Germans would then need to apply for a European arrest warrant and ask British courts to have Bernie arrested in the UK and then extradited to Germany.

It remains to be seen what will happen but it is clearly in the best interests of F1 that this business be sorted out as quickly as possible.

54 thoughts on “The talk in Hockenheim

          1. Perhaps it’s what we expect, if only because we can’t visualise F1 being administered by anyone with a vestige moral rectitude.

            But with regard to the fat lady, I think you’ll find she’s now well into the last chorus.

  1. It’s going to be an interesting situation for Bernie, he is a UK citizen with the HMRC watching over his interests and dealings, although I haven’t seen anything that would indicate that they are going to put out any statement as yet.

    He may well have a valid defence for all of this, but if not he will be looking at a bit of trouble from the UK authorities as well as the Germans.

    1. His defence is “A man asked me for some money so I gave him a lot” – not a very strong or valid one.

      Come on people, the smoke has been drifting around for ages. F1 needs the fire putting out fast – but it’s not going to happen fast, is it? It’s going to drag on and on.

      Big sponsors are looking very carefully at their association and involvement with a sport that has a dubious character at the helm. They jumped in for the glamour but they will walk swiftly away from anything that makes shareholders question their management skills or judgement. Look at the scalps that have gone in UK banking recently – most of them guilty by association rather than caught red-handed.

      Bernie is the arch ducker-diver but someone (CVC?) ought to have had the courage to change the structure ages ago. It saddens me enormously to watch it – but I can’t summon up much sympathy for those involved either.

  2. It’s fair to say with CVC and others involved in the financial affairs of FOM, any dealings with HMRC are above board and transparent, unlike a certain mobile phone operator dodging £6bn worth of tax.

    As for the bribe/blackmail payment, it’s probably a decoy set up by Gribkowsky.

    1. No investigation into BE would exclude CVC, who incidentally have already investigated these payments themselves and concluded (wrongly) nothing was amiss.

      What should also be borne in mind is that when investigating, it will be those benefiting that will share any investigator’s attention and that will include CVC and any arrangement they made with Ecclestone linked to the purchase price of the BayernLB SLEC holdings.

      It should also not be forgotten in the early days of this scandal BE’s vehement denials of involvement. Presumably he thought then he was safe from exposure and the Munich Prosecutors’ probing. Well he was wrong, they unearthed all the dodgy pathways and caught BE bang to rights.

      Put simply they ‘Followed the Money’…

  3. With such high profile people the prosecution does not (in my opinion) have any choice but to attempt to prosecute Bernie. To do otherwise would bring down the wrath of the media and cries of unfair positive treatment to the rich; and if there is anyone prosecution services are afraid of worldwide it’s the media.

    Guilty or not, a wealthy, aged man like Bernard E will be able to delay proceedings for several years if he wishes one would think, possibly until such time as his health is less robust than now at which point would surely force the prosecution to re-evaluate the Public Interest test they must apply (at least they do here in the UK) when considering a case.

    So by logical extension the German taxpayer will stump up a lot of money in the next few years for an entirely predictable lack of a result.

  4. Well it’s Bernie we’re talking about. He’ll sort it out or keep this tied up in court until he’s 147.

  5. So do we think Mr E is being bullish and putting on a front, or do we think that he has been smart enough not to leave any trace of proof in which case he is confident that he cannot be found guilty?

    I suspect that Mr E would be prepared to go to Prison whilst the investigation continues (on the basis that he would hope to eventually be freed as an innocent man), as opposed to spending the rest of his time in a non-extradition country.

    As he has always said he is “No Angel” but proof has always been a problem for anyone wishing to see him sent down.

    1. I do not pretend to know what the German prosecutors will or will not do. I am simply saying the coulds and maybes.

      1. I suppose the FIA charging him with bringing the sport into disrepute is out of the question unless the German courts find him guilty of something?

        Have you heard anything regarding the FIA’s position on this whole affair?

    2. “I suspect that Mr E would be prepared to go to Prison whilst the investigation continues…..”

      I can’t imagine Bernie under ANY scenario willing to cool his heels in a jail cell until he is either cleared or convicted. My guess is he would offer up a HUGE bond to guaranty his return.

      Would the Germans accept it is the question.

  6. I’m not sure that even Bernie’s Falcon 7X has a long enough range to get him away from this potential mess…..

        1. And thereby hangs a little story… About six months after Chunky (aka Colin Chapman) died, the Sunday Times Insight Team did a story speculating he was actually on the lam somewhere like South America. It came out when we were at Kyalami, and I had to see Bernie and Max about something. They quizzed me on the story, although I knew only what the S.T. had said. Bernie looked at Max, grinned and said : “I suppose I’ll get a postcard, signed ‘From an old friend’. ” Then, mock indignant : “And I lent people my plane to get to the funeral..”

  7. something doesnt add up … why would you pay someone $44mil to NOT say something that isnt true anyway (unless it is) ? ….

  8. Thats a good point. It is hard to envisage an F1 without him, but then life goes on and I am sure a good replacement will be found.

    Joe do you think there is any traction in the circuits coming together the (FOCA), which appears to be their way of dealing with Bernie and costs?

    When you hear of so many circuits having financial issues in sustaining the F1 race this seems a good idea, although unless all come together I suspect Bernie has enough lined up with bottomless pockets to make his calendar decisions that bit easier.

    1. The question of the day regarding this line of thinking is: “Will FOCA be any more cohesive that FOTA?” I’m sure BE is already considering the old divide and conquer strategy which has served him so well.

    1. If you read the newspapers you will see that in Hungary the authorities have just arrested 97-year-old Laszlo Csatary. I do not wish to get into arguments about the rights and wrongs of this or the allegations involved but this is an example which sort of disproves your logic.

      Secondly, what is the difference between a man of 60 and an 80-year-old with the energy of a 60-year-old? Surely the question is one of health rather than age.

      1. There are some distinct differences between a nazi war criminal and the CEO of one of Britains best exports.

        1. As I said I do not wish to go into the relative merits of the cases but obviously you only read the bits you wish to read.

            1. I am not interested in wasting my energy on someone who is deliberately misinterpreting what I have been saying.

  9. I laughed when I read Gribkowsky’s confession (or what was reported on it). He was claimed to have said that 10 million would have been normal, but Bernie paid 40.

    So there’s a ‘normal’ for bribery???

    IMO it’s time to move Bernie out. Unfortunately the ownership of the sport is such that we can’t have 90% of the TV revenue going to the teams, reasonable fees for the tracks that ensure they make money etc. All of which IMO would be great for the sport. 10% of TV revenue should be more than enough to administer the promotional activities and pay a decent salary to the new figurehead and his staff…

  10. If the Revenue go after Bernie, they have retrospective powers to investigate previous year’s tax returns and other financial dealings up to something like 10 years (more if necessary)

    When they want to, they can be pretty nasty.

    I don’t think any of this is easily judged as we don’t know what Bernie has up his shirt sleeves.

    Untangling the Bambino Holdings connections is another job that is going to take a lot of effort, especially if the available doc’s are as minimal as has been suggested.

  11. I wonder if the stress of either German authorities, British tax authorities or both pursuing him is wearing him down. At his stage of life who needs to or is capable of facing that on a daily basis, Bernie right now is engineering the deal of his life to tap dance out of these circumstances. Full credit to him if he has the balls to go to Germany, many a white collar shyster or politician would have used a stable of excuses to be elsewhere.

    Like him or hate him he’s a Renegade and brilliant in his capacity to ‘structure’ palatable deals between parties, or even one sided deals people accept. He probably could have been one hell of a Politician.

    May have to put the London GP on the ‘back burner’ for a while if he gets in the clear, Prices are going up!!

      1. I know G is in jail. What I meant was was he a Civil Servant and Bank Official at the time that BE gave him the money ?
        Sent from my BlackBerry®

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