(Adds reports of 25 million euro offer, court statement)
By Jörn Poltz
MUNICH, Germany, July 29 Lawyers for Formula One
boss Bernie Ecclestone held talks with German prosecutors on
Tuesday to try to settle a bribery trial that threatens his grip
on the motor sport.
Ecclestone, 83, went on trial in Munich in April over
allegations he bribed a former German banker as part of the sale
of a major stake in the motor sport business eight years ago.
If convicted, the British billionaire could face up to 10
years in jail and would have to cede control of a business he
has built up over the past four decades.
"Public prosecutors and the defence are discussing the
possibility of an agreement," a spokesman for the German
Media reports said Ecclestone, who denies wrongdoing, on
Tuesday offered to pay German state-owned bank BayernLB 25
million euros ($33.5 million) to help settle the case. There was
no immediate comment from his defence team.
Prosecutors have rejected a request from the defence to drop
proceedings on the grounds of a lack of evidence.
Under German law, a settlement payment to a party involved
would not necessarily bring a criminal case to an end.
The court said in a statement that talks on an agreement
could continue, but it also scheduled a further hearing in the
case for next Tuesday.
Ecclestone is required to attend every session, but hearings
are held only a couple of times a week to fit in with his
globe-trotting schedule as chief executive of the motor racing
Ecclestone is accused of channelling $44 million to jailed
BayernLB banker Gerhard Gribkowsky to smooth the sale of a major
stake in the business by the bank to private equity fund CVC,
which became the largest shareholder in Formula One in 2006.
The prosecution alleges that Ecclestone wanted CVC to take
control because this meant he could stay on as chief executive
of a business he had been instrumental in building.
Gribkowsky had been chief risk officer at state-owned bank
BayernLB, which became a major shareholder in Formula One
following the collapse of the Kirch media group in 2002.
Ecclestone says he paid off Gribkowsky as an "insurance
policy" after the German threatened to make damaging false
claims about his tax affairs. He funded the payment with a
commission taken from BayernLB after the sale to CVC.
Under German law, judges, prosecutors and the defence can
agree to dismiss a case or settle it with a light punishment,
although terms for such an agreement are strictly defined.
Ecclestone has previously offered to pay money back to
BayernLB in 2012 to try to prevent the case from going ahead but
that proposal was rejected.
($1 = 0.7456 Euros)
(Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Jane