German banker: I took $44m Formula 1 bribe

A former top German bank manager has admitted taking $44 million from Formula 1 owner Bernie Ecclestone for selling the race business to the “right” bidder. He described his payment as a “giant mountain of money.”

German banker: I took $44m Formula 1 bribe
Photo: DPA

The testimony will aid German investigations against Ecclestone, who is under investigation and may also face trial over the affair.

Gerhard Gribkowsky told Munich’s higher regional court on Wednesday that the charges against him were largely accurate – after eight months of silence. “I closed my eyes,” he said.

In nearly two hours of testimony, he described how Ecclestone kept a firm grip on everything to do with Formula 1. “You don’t get anywhere if he doesn’t want it,” he said, describing him as obsessed with power and having no time for paperwork.

While on BayernLB’s management board from 2003 to 2008, Gribkowsky oversaw the sale of a majority share of the Formula 1 business which had come into the bank’s possession as a result of the bankruptcy of the Kirch media group.

Gribkowsky was accused of accepting $44 million from Ecclestone to ensure the package was sold to British investor CVC. Gribkowsky oversaw the sale to CVC in 2006 – allegedly forcing it past the rest of the bank’s management and making an unnecessary $66 million payment to Ecclestone.

The Formula 1supremo made a secret of his distaste for the bank as co-owner and had pressured him to sell, said Gribkowsky.

Gribkowsky claimed Ecclestone told him, “If you help me to sell Formula 1, I will employ you as a consultant.” Shortly afterwards he presented CVC as his preferred candidate.

Gribkowsky said Ecclestone had demanded $100 million in fees for arranging the sale – a sum the banker said he pushed down to $66 million but acknowledged was not necessary at all.

Ecclestone then offered him a position as consultant, asking what he wanted with the phrase, “’Tell me numbers’ that I know to this day,” said Gribkowsky.

He said he wanted $50 million, and although he was expecting to get just a fraction of it – “$10 million would be more normal,” he said – but he got nearly the full amount.

Gribkowsky said he used the money to set up a children’s cancer charity in Austria, saying he had experienced what families go through when his son became ill. “I will save us all the details,” he told the court.

The prosecutors saw this movement of money as tax evasion, which he accepted.

His statement to the court came after talks between his lawyers, the prosecutors and the court. Judge Peter Noll said afterwards that the parties had not reached an agreement – but Gribkowsky spoke in court afterwards anyway, saying the charges were largely correct.

He is likely to be jailed for between seven years and 10 months and nine years.

His refusal to speak at the trial until now forced the court to hear more than 40 witnesses – including Ecclestone, who described the payment as hush money to stop him from talking to the British tax authorities. He said Gribkowsky had blackmailed him into paying the money.

Ecclestone is still being investigated by the German authorities.

DPA/The Local/hc

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