Bernie Ecclestone remains confident of winning his legal battle in Germany – despite a British judge saying today that the F1 boss had been involved in bribery.
In a civil action for damages filed by Constantin Media the judge deemed that the German media group had suffered no loss in the sale of F1 to CVC, and thus found in Bernie’s favor on the key point.
However, he also made it clear that he believed that Ecclestone had bribed jailed banker Gerhard Gribkowsky.
Mr. Justice Newey said: “The payments were a bribe. They were made because Mr. Ecclestone had entered into a corrupt agreement with Dr. Gribkowsky on May 2005 under which Dr. Gribkowsky was to be rewarded for facilitating the sale of BLB’s shares in the F1 Group to a buyer acceptable to Mr. Ecclestone.”
That of course is the crux of the impending legal case Bernie faces in Germany. However a statement issued in his name today said that the UK verdict won’t necessarily have any impact on the upcoming case, essentially because a greater burden of proof will be required, and more witnesses will be compelled to appear.
It read as follows: “The key issue in the case was to determine whether BLB’s stake in F1, which it had inherited following the collapse of the Kirch group to whom BLB had lent significant sums, had been sold too cheaply in 2006, causing a potential loss to Constantin.
“Mr. Ecclestone has always known that this claim was brought for opportunistic reasons and despite many approaches from Constantin, he was resolute that he would not settle this case out of Court.
“The judge has found that Constantin’s claim fails for multiple reasons. It is noteworthy that the judge found that there was no desire on the part of Mr. Ecclestone to cause BLB to sell its shares at an undervalue and in fact there was no undervalue. Mr. Ecclestone is delighted that this thoroughly unmeritorious claim has been dismissed.
“As this was a civil claim, the judge was only required to deal with the claim on the balance of probabilities. This is a much lower standard of proof than would apply in a criminal case.
“The judge has expressed his opinion that on the balance of probabilities there was an unlawful agreement made with Dr. Gribkowsky and that payments that Mr. Ecclestone made for Dr. Gribkowsky’s benefit were a bribe, but this view is not underpinned by reliable evidence. The source of these allegations is Dr. Gribkowsky himself, who did not give evidence in this case. The judge expressly recognized there was clearly considerable force in the point that there had been no opportunity for Mr. Ecclestone’s (and the other defendants’) legal team to cross-examine important witnesses, including Dr. Gribkowsky. As such, the judge’s opinion is expressed in the light of hearing only partial evidence that has not been properly tested.
“Mr. Ecclestone welcomes that he will have the opportunity to defend these bribery allegations properly in proceedings due to begin in Munich in April, when the relevant witnesses can be compelled to attend and be cross-examined by his lawyers. He is confident that he will be acquitted.”