German court agrees to end Ecclestone bribery case for €75m

Formula One boss was on trial accused of bribing ex-banker over sale of stake in F1

Bavarian state prosecutors and the Munich district court have agreed to end a bribery case against Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone in exchange for a record payment of $100 million (€75 million).

Mr Ecclestone went on trial in April accused of bribing an ex-German banker to ensure the sale of a Formula One stake went to his preferred bidder.

Judge Peter Noll told Munich district court yesterday that, had the trial continued, the suspicion of bribery against Mr Ecclestone was unlikely to have been substantiated. Instead, he suspended the trail and gave Mr Ecclestone a week to pay $99 million to the state and $1 million to a children’s charity.

“If you don’t honour your commitments, we continue the trial,” said Judge Noll, “[but] I assume we’ll only ever see each other again on television.” Mr Ecclestone replied, in English: “Thank you very much. I will honour my commitment.”

The settlement, agreed to by the Bavarian district court and state prosecutors, effectively ends the four-month-long case against the 83 year old. Had he been found guilty, he faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and loss of control of his racing business.

Munich district court spokeswoman Andrea Titz said the conclusion meant Mr Ecclestone had “neither been acquitted nor judged” – adding that this was a conclusion “available in theory to all types of cases”.

Controversy

Ending cases in exchange for a fee is not uncommon in the German justice system but is usually used for minor cases, ostensibly to ease the burden on the court system.

The procedure attracted controversy when used to end the 2001 case against former chancellor Helmut Kohl over illegal political donations and a doping case against former cyclist Jan Ullrich.

The abrupt end to the high- profile case put Mr Ecclestone’s lawyers on the defensive yesterday against claims the British billionaire had bought his innocence.

Sven Thomas, for Mr Ecclestone, said “hundreds” of cases had been ended using the so-called “paragraph 153” rule and insisted this was “not a law only for the big people of this world”.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin

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