Bernie Ecclestone has won a High Court battle against German media company Constantin Medien. This does NOT mean that he is in the clear in Germany as some have suggested but rather that the judge did not believe the claimants had proved that Ecclestone undervalued the F1 shares in order to get control of the Formula One group, which he had lost after the collapse of the Kirch empire.
Mr Justice Newey said: “The payments were a bribe. They were made because Mr Ecclestone had entered into a corrupt agreement with Dr Gribkowsky in May 2005 under which Dr Gribkowsky was to be rewarded for facilitating the sale of BLB’s shares in the Formula One group to a buyer acceptable to Mr Ecclestone.”
He also said that: “Even … making allowances for the lapse of time and Mr Ecclestone’s age, I am afraid that I find it impossible to regard him as a reliable or truthful witness.”
What the decision will do is discourage other opportunistic attempts to make money. The court case in Germany relates primarily not to the price of the sale, but rather whether a bribe was paid to a public official by Ecclestone and by a family trust fund called Bambino. That has implications in that the fund was supposed to be operating outside Ecclestone’s control and thus the trustee will probably need to explain at some point why it was deemed sensible to pay money to state bank employee Gerhard Gribkowsky, who is serving eight and a half years for accepting a bribe. If there is a suggestion that Ecclestone was involved in that decision, it is likely that the British tax authorities will get involved as they stand to gain billions in taxes if the trust was being operated in an inappropriate manner.