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German court delays decision on Ecclestone case

September 20, 2013

MUNICH (AP) — A German court decision on whether to try Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone on bribery charges has been delayed until next year.

The Munich state court said in a statement Friday that it is waiting for additional responses that Ecclestone’s lawyers have promised to charges of bribery and incitement to breach of trust.

It also said that the composition of the panel of judges considering the case will shortly change and so a decision “can no longer be expected this year.”

The charges, which were filed by Munich prosecutors in July, relate to a $44 million payment to a German banker. The court said at the time that it wouldn’t decide before mid-September on whether and when the case would go to trial.

Ecclestone, the longtime commercial head of F1, has been under investigation since the banker, Gerhard Gribkowsky, was convicted of accepting the payment in connection with the sale of a stake in F1.

Ecclestone, who will be 83 in October, says he did nothing illegal.

He acknowledged during Gribkowsky’s trial in 2011 that he made the payment five years earlier but said he was pressured to do so.

Gribkowsky was in charge of selling German bank BayernLB’s 47 percent stake in F1 to investment group CVC Capital Partners in 2006.

The banker was sentenced to 8½ years in prison last year after being found guilty of corruption, tax evasion and breach of trust.

In addition to taking the money from Ecclestone, Gribkowsky used BayernLB’s funds to pay the F1 chief a commission of $41.4 million and agreed to pay a further $25 million to Bambino Trust, a company with which Ecclestone was affiliated, prosecutors said during the trial in 2011.

Sentences in Germany for bribery range from three months to 10 years in prison.

“They wanted money. I was shaken down by the guys. It’s happened in life before,” Ecclestone told The Associated Press in July.

Ecclestone was savvy in building his power base in F1 from the 1970s and helped to create the Formula One Constructors’ Association that controlled the business side of the sport, including selling the TV rights.

The British-based company later became known as Formula One Management and has retained control of the global motor racing series, despite regular tussles with the teams over finances.

CVC amassed a 63 percent stake of F1 but reduced its holding as other investors came on board. Ecclestone’s holding has been diluted to about 5 percent. A planned flotation has stalled.

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