Motorsport

Published: Thursday January 16, 2014 MYT 6:57:02 PM
Updated: Thursday January 16, 2014 MYT 6:57:02 PM

F1's Ecclestone faces German bribery trial

Formula One Chief Executive Bernie Ecclestone leaves the High Court in central London November 6, 2013. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Formula One Chief Executive Bernie Ecclestone leaves the High Court in central London November 6, 2013. REUTERS/Toby Melville

MUNICH (Reuters) - Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone will stand trial on bribery charges in Munich over the sale of a stake in his multi-billion dollar sport, a German court said on Thursday.

"Under current planning, the main trial should start in late April," the Munich court said in a statement on Thursday.

Ecclestone, 83, was charged in July with bribing former German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky to smooth the sale of a stake in the motor racing business to private equity firm CVC eight years ago.

Ecclestone has denied wrongdoing and said he will fight to clear his name.

"The decision to go to trial is normal and in no way is it a finding in the issue at hand. This is something that is up to the trial itself," Ecclestone's lawyers in Germany Sven Thomas and Norbert Scharf said in a statement.

"The alleged bribery never took place. The accusations that are based on Gribkowsky's testimony are incorrect and based on the facts offer no coherent picture."

Legal problems stemming from the CVC sale threaten to end Ecclestone's long hold on a sport that attracts hundreds of millions of television viewers to its series of grand prix races held around the globe.

The legal issues also make it hard to revisit stalled efforts to launch an initial public offering of Formula One on the Singapore stock market.

CVC paid about $830 million (508.2 million pounds) for BayernLB's 47 percent stake in Formula One, after the business had fallen into the hands of a group of banks following the collapse of German media company and controlling shareholder Kirch.

A Munich court in 2012 jailed Gribkowsky, former chief risk officer at BayernLB, for tax evasion and bribery for taking a $44 million payment from Ecclestone and his family trust after the sale.

Ecclestone, who has repeatedly said the payment had nothing to do with the CVC deal, is also awaiting the outcome of a $100 million damages claim brought by German company Constantin Medien in the London High Court over his involvement in the deal.

That decision should come in January or February. Win or lose, it will not be the last that the Formula One CEO hears of the matter as he faces a further damages claim in London.

(Reporting by Joern Poltz; Writing by Maria Sheahan and Karolos Grohmann, editing by Alan Baldwin)

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