MUNICH/LONDON (Reuters) - A judge jailed a German banker for more than 8 years on Wednesday for taking $44 million in bribes during the sale of Formula One in a case that centered on a payment from Bernie Ecclestone, the motor sport’s commercial chief.
Presiding judge Peter Noll convicted BayernLB’s former chief risk officer Gerhard Gribkowsky of tax evasion, bribery and breach of fiduciary trust in a court in Munich.
Noll described the billionaire Ecclestone as the “driving force” behind the payments but said Gribkowsky, in turn, had shown “high criminal energy”.
Gribkowsky was arrested in January 2011 over the sale of BayernLB’s 48 percent stake in Formula One to UK investor CVC, which Formula One chief Ecclestone was keen to see as a new shareholder.
Gribkowsky told the court earlier this month that he received the money and a job offer as part of a secret agreement with Ecclestone in 2005.
Ecclestone has been subject to an investigation by German prosecutors but no charges have been filed against the 81-year-old Briton. He denies wrongdoing and has said he was the victim of coercion by Gribkowsky.
“They based their decisions on what he told them. I told them the truth,” Ecclestone told Reuters on Wednesday when asked about the verdict.
“I think Mr Gribkowsky told them what he thought he had to tell them. I don’t think I should (face further action) but you don’t know, do you?”
Ecclestone said Britain’s tax authorities had written to him within the past two or three months to say they were looking into his tax affairs.
“After all this, I’d have been surprised if they didn’t contact me,” he said, adding he would cooperate with the inquiry.
Britain’s Serious Fraud Office has previously said it was liaising with the authorities in Germany to consider the allegations made in the case and whether there was scope for investigation.
Ecclestone, who gave evidence in court in November, has said he paid some 10 million pounds ($16 million) to Gribkowsky to “keep him quiet” after the German put him under pressure over his tax affairs, and not to smooth the sale to CVC.
“It’s not bribery,” Ecclestone said on Wednesday.
Prosecutor Christoph Rolder told the court on Wednesday that Ecclestone was “not the victim but a co-conspirator in corruption”.
Ecclestone has helped turn Formula One into a global business that is expected to have revenues of $2 billion this year. It tours the world in a 20-race season that regularly attracts television audiences of hundreds of millions.
BayernLB had ended up with the Formula One stake following the bankruptcy of late German media mogul Leo Kirch and had assigned Gribkowsky with the task of hiving it off.
CVC owned a 63 percent stake from 2006 but has cut that to around 35 percent with a series of sales in recent months.
Plans to float the business in Singapore this month were put on hold because of market turmoil.
Additional reporting by Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt; Editing by Hans-Juergen Peters and Jon Loades-Carter
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