Updated: Tuesday, 05 August 2014 18:16 | By Agence France-Presse

F1 chief Ecclestone offers court $100 mn to quash bribery charges

A German court said it would rule Tuesday on a controversial offer by Formula One tycoon Bernie Ecclestone to pay $100 million to end his trial on bribery charges.

F1 chief Ecclestone offers court $100 mn to quash bribery charges

Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone (right) stands next to his lawyer Sven Thomas at the courthouse in Munich, southern Germany, on August 5, 2014 - by PETER KNEFFEL

In a move that could see him retain control of the lucrative sport, the 83-year-old billionaire struck an agreement on the huge settlement with prosecutors and must now receive the tribunal's approval.

"The court must review this offer in its entirety, which it will do by 1 pm (1100 GMT)," presiding judge Peter Noll said.

The $100-million payment would reportedly be the largest accord of its kind in German criminal history.

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 possible Ecclestone deal has stoked fierce criticism. 

If it is approved by the judges, Ecclestone would not have a criminal record and should be able to retain his control of the multi-billion dollar sport.

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 $100-million (75-million-euro) payment rather than continue with proceedings.

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

Former justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger blasted the deal 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 he could face a jail term of up to 10 years if found guilty.

Ecclestone is 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 Ecclestone's tax affairs.

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

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 that the prosecution had failed to build a solid case against their client and citing his advanced age.

Negotiations then began on a settlement and Ecclestone offered to pay a settlement of 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, to be paid to the Bavarian authorities -- a smaller amount but one that respected the state's insistence on a six-figure sum.

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

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