Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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‘Unreliable’ F1 boss wins damages case

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LONDON: A judge has rejected an £85m damages claim against Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone but said he did pay a bribe over a sale of F1 shares.

Justice Newey, in the High Court in London, said there had been a ‘corrupt’ deal with a German banker to facilitate the sale to a preferred buyer. But he said there had been no financial loss to German media group Constantin Medien. It said it would appeal.

The judge said he had not found Mr Ecclestone, 83, “reliable or truthful”.

Ecclestone is the chief executive of F1, and has ruled the sport for almost four decades.

Constantin Medien had an interest in the 2006 sale of a stake in F1 belonging to the German bank Bayern LB (BLB), bought by private equity group CVC Capital Partners.

Lawyers for Constantin Medien claimed that the sale was agreed “without the normal and proper process” and for an undervalued price, and were seeking £85m (103m euros) in compensation.

But Justice Newey, delivering on Thursday the judgement reserved at the end of the two-month case last December, said the damages claim failed because it had been “no part” of Mr Ecclestone’s purpose for shares to be sold at an “undervalue”.

“No loss to Constantin has been shown to have been caused by the corrupt arrangement,” the judge said. “That fact is fatal to the claim.”

But he found that Ecclestone had made payments to bribe German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky to facilitate the sale to a buyer chosen by him.

Ecclestone has admitted paying Gribkowsky, but denied bribery and claimed he was effectively the victim of blackmail. Giving evidence last December, Ecclestone said the damages claim “lacks any merit”.

In written findings, 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.

“Mr Ecclestone’s aim was to be rid of the banks. He was strongly averse to their involvement in the F1 Group and was keen that their shares should be transferred to someone more congenial to him.”

The judge also said: “Even… making allowances for the lapse of time and Mr Ecclestone’s age, I am afraid that I find it impossible to regard him as a reliable or truthful witness.”

Ecclestone faces a criminal trial in Germany in April over the payments to Gribkowsky. He has stood down as a director of F1 ahead of that trial, but continues to run the sport on a day-to-day basis. (Reuters)

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