A January 24, 2004 picture shows former Formula One World Champion driver Niki Lauda of Austria (L) with Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone at the Hahnenkamm downhill race FIS World Cup in Kitzbuehel, Austria. (AFP)
Formula One tycoon Bernie Ecclestone is heading for a $100 million settlement to halt his bribery trial in Germany, local media reported at the weekend.
The 83-year-old Briton upped his offer to secure a deal, according to reports which said if it goes ahead it would the biggest of its kind.
The Munich court where the trial is due to resume on Tuesday has told witnesses scheduled to give testimony this week not to bother to turn up.
Ecclestone went on trial in April on charges of paying a $44-million (33-million-euro) bribe to a BayernLB bank executive for help in maintaining his four-decade grip on Formula One.
He increased an offer to pay the Bavarian authorities $100 million to settle the case from an initial $36 million last week, according to the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
The settlement, which is allowed in German criminal cases if the prosecution and aggrieved parties agree, should mean that Ecclestone retains his control of the multi-billion dollar sport.
This has been welcomed by Niki Lauda, the former Formula One world champion who is now non-executive president of the Mercedes team leading this year’s championship.
Lauda said it would be a “disaster” if Ecclestone were to lose control, according to Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
Ecclestone built up Formula One during his time in charge, according to Lauda, who said he was also speaking for Mercedes. “He is the only one who knows everything—the business, teams’ problems. He has everything in his head. He is the link between the teams and the investors.”
While such deals are common in German law, it would be the biggest of its kind ever agreed, the report said.
Media reports said Ecclestone had personally negotiated the deal with prosecutors in Munich on Friday.
Ecclestone is accused of paying German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky $44 million in 2006 and 2007 to ensure that shares in Formula One held by BayernLB were sold to Ecclestone’s preferred bidder, CVC Capital Partners of Britain, now the sport’s majority shareholder.
The Formula One magnate has denied any wrongdoing, but he could have faced a jail term of up to 10 years if found guilty. Ecclestone admitted paying the money but said it was handed over to Gribkowsky to end blackmail threats that the banker would hand over information about Ecclestone’s tax affairs.
Gribkowsky was sentenced to eight and half years in jail in 2012. CVC Capital had said that if Ecclestone were convicted then he would be removed from his position as president and chief executive of Formula One Management.
Australian GP extended to 2020
The Australian F-1 GP will stay in Melbourne until 2020, the Victorian state government said Sunday, after the conclusion of 12 months of negotiations in London. Victorian Premier Denis Napthine hailed the extension of the race from 2016 to 2020, and said he looked forward to Australian Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull winning the Albert Park race during that time. He said the new contract was agreed to last week after a year of negotiations in London. “This is a terrific announcement that reaffirms Melbourne and Victoria as the major events and sporting capital of the world,” Napthine told Fairfax Radio. The GP is funded by the Victorian state government, and has consistently lost money since Melbourne replaced Adelaide as Australia’s Formula One venue in 1996. But Napthine said the contract would be a “great deal” for taxpayers. “It’s a better deal than the existing contract,” he added.