By Christian Sylt, Crain News Service
DETROIT (March 7, 2014) — Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has denied a report which claimed he will not be able to run the racing series full time because of his forthcoming bribery trial in Germany.
Mr. Ecclestone's legal trouble has been sparked by a $44-million payment made by him and the Ecclestone family's Bambino trust to Gerhard Gribkowsky, a former executive at German bank BayernLB. Mr. Gribkowsky was responsible for selling BayernLB's 47.2 percent stake in F1 in 2006. Prosecutors believe the $44-million payment to him was a bribe to steer the sale of the F1 stake to the private equity firm CVC because CVC agreed to retain Mr. Ecclestone to head the series.
Mr. Ecclestone last month won a related civil case in London in which he was accused of undervaluing F1 through the alleged bribe because other bidders may have paid more than CVC.
The Financial Times on March 4 quoted Mr. Ecclestone as saying: “I've been looking, over the last few years, for somebody who can join me to assist with what I have to do. I will eventually be in a position, if I decide to retire—or unfortunately become dead—to have someone to step into my shoes….
“I've been spending time on this [civil] case and to spend time on Munich, I am not able to give what I normally would do, 24/7, to the business.”
However, contrary to this, Mr. Ecclestone subsequently told the Independent newspaper, “Of course I can run the company at the same time as doing the trial in Germany.”
He added: “I am in court for two days a week on Tuesday and Wednesday. The judge did it so I am able to go to races at the weekend. I will probably go on Monday nights, because I have to be there at 9:30 a.m., stay Tuesday night and come back Wednesday. He said we will get the hearings on Wednesday out of the way before 5 p.m. so I can leave then. It starts in April and goes on until September.”
Mr. Ecclestone admitted that he will need help to get through the case but stressed that he isn't referring to hiring a second-in-command for F1, as he said he has no intention of sharing the wheel.
Instead, he said, “One or two people here that have been a bit shy on working will have to get their act into gear. I'm going to be bloody busy doing so much that I'm going to need some help or something from internally.”
Mr. Ecclestone denies paying the bribe and claims that Mr. Gribkowsky threatened to tell the U.K.'s Internal Revenue Service that he controlled Bambino if Mr. Ecclestone did not pay him the $44 million. Bambino is based offshore whereas Mr. Ecclestone is a U.K. resident—so he would be liable to pay tax on the $4 billion in the trust if he was found to be in control of it, which he has denied repeatedly.
A case was also brought against him in the New York Supreme Court by Bluewaters, an American investment firm which claimed to have been the highest bidder when CVC bought F1. A judge in January threw its case out after ruling that New York was not the proper venue for the case and that the court therefore did not have jurisdiction.
Bluewaters is appealing the decision.
This report appeared on the website of Crain's Autoweek magazine, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.