Formula One chief says to fight $650 million damages claim

LONDON Tue Nov 20, 2012 4:38pm EST

LONDON Nov 20 (Reuters) - Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone said he plans to contest a $650 million damages claim filed in New York, the latest legal case to stem from the sale of the motor racing series in 2005.

Investment firm Bluewaters Communications Holdings filed the lawsuit at New York State Supreme Court last week, naming Formula One commercial head Ecclestone as one of the defendants.

In its claim, Bluewaters said it was prepared to offer more than any other bidder for the sport and alleged that Ecclestone had engineered a sale to private equity firm CVC Capital Partners so they would retain him in his role.

"Ecclestone was motivated by a thirst for power. He wanted desperately to remain "F1 Supremo"," the Bluewaters claim said.

The damages relate to what Bluewaters say would be their share of lost earnings from the sport, which attracts huge television audiences for its series of 20 annual races around the globe.

Its bid was financed by New York private equity firms Apollo Global Management and King Street Capital Management, it said.

Ecclestone told Reuters he was surprised that the case had been brought and said he had not heard of Bluewaters.

"I couldn't have been involved because I had nothing to sell," he told Reuters by telephone from Brazil where the final Formula One grand prix race of the season will take place at the weekend.

Ecclestone, 82, is a British billionaire who, since taking charge in the 1970s, has built up Formula One into one of the world's most popular and lucrative sports.

The case relates to the sale of a 47 percent stake in Formula One by German bank BayernLB to private equity firm Capital Partners in 2005.

A German court jailed banker Gerhard Gribkowsky earlier this year after he admitted taking $44 million in illegal payments to favor UK-based buyout firm CVC.

The New York case also named BayernLB and CVC among the defendants. Neither company would comment on the suit.

BayernLB said last month it was seeking $400 million in damages from Ecclestone over the sale to CVC.

Ecclestone said he would fight that claim in court if necessary.

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