Updated: Tuesday, 05 August 2014 20:10 | By Agence France-Presse

F1 chief Ecclestone ends bribery trial with $100-mn payment

A German court ruled Tuesday that Formula One tycoon Bernie Ecclestone can pay a controversial $100-million settlement to end his trial on bribery charges.


F1 chief Ecclestone ends bribery trial with $100-mn payment

Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone at the regional courthouse in Munich, southern Germany, on August 5, 2014 - by Peter Kneffel

In a move that will likely see him stay at the helm of the lucrative sport, the 83-year-old Briton struck an accord with prosecutors on the huge payment which then got the Munich tribunal's blessing.

"The proceedings will be temporarily suspended with the agreement of the prosecution and the accused," pending payment of the settlement within one week, presiding judge Peter Noll said.

The $100-million (75 million euro) payment is reportedly the largest accord of its kind in German criminal justice history.

Noll said $99 million would go to the Bavarian state coffers while $1 million would be donated to a "child hospice foundation". 

He had asked Ecclestone through an interpreter whether he would be able to make the payment within a week, to which he replied: "yes".

Ecclestone went on trial in the southern city of Munich in April on charges of paying a $44-million bribe to a Bavarian state bank executive for help in maintaining his four-decade grip on Formula One.

A settlement is allowed in German criminal cases if the prosecution, the aggrieved parties and the court agree, but the Ecclestone deal has stoked fierce criticism. 

Court spokesman Andrea Titz said the judges had determined that a conviction was "not particularly likely" based on the evidence presented until now.

Under the terms of the agreement, Ecclestone will not have a criminal record and should be able to retain his control of the multi-billion-dollar Formula One empire.

He has attended most of the hearings in person and arrived at the courthouse on Tuesday in a limousine, looking relaxed and accompanied by his young wife, Fabiana Flosi.

- 'Stinks to high heaven' -

Ecclestone's defence team and prosecutors struck the deal, first reported on Saturday in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, to settle the case with a one-time payment rather than continue with proceedings that had been scheduled to last at least until October.

News of the accord drew angry condemnation of a legal proviso in Germany that allows defendants to "buy" a dismissal in some instances.

Former justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger had blasted the possible Ecclestone deal Monday as "galling" and "not in harmony with the sense and purpose of our legal practices".

She called on lawmakers to at least tighten -- if not eliminate entirely -- the loophole, which is designed to expedite cases before overburdened courts and whose sums are calculated based on the defendant's financial means.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung lashed out at a deal in which "the briber is supposed to be washed clean with a spectacular payment".

"The saying goes 'money doesn't stink' but that's wrong here: these millions stink to high heaven."

And the top-selling Bild denounced "the bitter impression that not everyone is equal before the law".

The Formula One magnate has denied any wrongdoing, but could have faced a jail term of up to 10 years if found guilty.

Ecclestone was accused of paying German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky $44 million in 2006 and 2007 to ensure that shares in Formula One held by BayernLB were sold to Ecclestone's preferred bidder, CVC Capital Partners of Britain, now the sport's majority shareholder.

Ecclestone admitted paying the money but said it was given to Gribkowsky to end blackmail threats that the banker would hand over information about the Briton's tax affairs.

Gribkowsky was sentenced to eight and half years in jail in 2012. 

- Dramatically symbolic sum -

CVC Capital had said that if Ecclestone were convicted then he would be removed from his position as president and chief executive of Formula One Management.

After months of inconclusive testimony by several witnesses, Ecclestone's lawyers asked the court last week to end the trial, saying the prosecution had failed to build a solid case against their client and citing his advanced age.

The trial had in recent weeks focused on the question of whether Ecclestone knew Gribkowsky was a public official because the Bavarian state held a major stake in BayernLB, thus making a bribe a case of corruption.

Negotiations then began on a settlement and Ecclestone offered to pay 25 million euros ($34 million) to put the matter behind him. 

But prosecutors demanded 100 million euros, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported.

They eventually agreed on $100 million -- a smaller amount but one that respected the state's insistence on a dramatically symbolic sum.

Ecclestone reportedly personally negotiated the agreement with prosecutors in Munich on Friday.

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