Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone went on trial in Germany on Thursday accused of bribery in a case which threatens a jail term for the Briton who has controlled the motor sport for four decades.
Ecclestone, 83, has denied charges of bribery and abetting breach of trust over a $44 million (31.8 million euro) payment he made to former German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky, who has since been jailed.
Prosecutors charge the money was a bribe meant to ensure the German bank BayernLB sold its shares in Formula One to Ecclestone’s preferred bidder, CVC Capital Partners, to maintain his control over the sport.
At the start of the Munich trial, watched by dozens of journalists, the diminutive Formula One magnate, wearing a dark suit, confirmed his name, date of birth, and occupation as Formula One manager.
The trial in the southern city is scheduled to run for more than 20 court days, with a verdict expected in September. The maximum term for serious bribery cases is 10 years prison.
Ecclestone has denied plans to seek a plea bargain and insisted, “I’m going into this trial to prove my innocence of what I have been charged with”.
The crux will be why he paid Gribkowsky millions in 2006 — Ecclestone says he was blackmailed, the German banker says it was a bribe.
The complex case revolves around Formula One rights that German bank BayernLB in 2006 sold to Britain’s CVC Capital Partners for $830 million.
Ecclestone received a $66 million commission from Gribkowsky as part of the deal, then allegedly gave him back $44 million.