Trial against ecclestone: nailing vanilla pudding doesn’t work

Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone presents himself as a victim of blackmail in the Munich bribery trial. The prosecutor is not buying this version.

Interesting gesture: Bernie Ecclestone in the Munich court. Picture: reuters

The prosecution does not believe the testimony of Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone in the bribery trial at the Munich Regional Court. At the start of the second day of the trial, prosecutor Christian Weib clarified on Friday that the prosecution continues to assume bribery of Bavarian banker Gerhard Gribkowsky – and not blackmail, as Ecclestone had described it in his hour-long statement in court.

The 83-year-old has been on trial since last week on charges of bribery and breach of trust in a particularly serious case because he is alleged to have paid a bribe of $44 million to the then board of BayernLB.

Ecclestone had represented itself to the process prelude however as victim of an extortion. He had feared that Gribkowsky would report him to the British tax authorities and therefore paid millions. He had also told this version during an interrogation in 2011. Senior public prosecutor Hildegard Baumler-Hosl had led the interrogation at the time and was now questioned as a witness. She recalled many details of the interrogation at that time.

Among other things, Ecclestone had complained about Gribkowsky’s behavior at the time: when Ecclestone was late once, the banker had sat down on his chair and smoked a cigar. "That was an absolute affront," said Baumler-Hosl. Ecclestone had also recounted this anecdote in his statement last week. "He revealed a rude behavior," he complained about the banker.

At no time in Ecclestone’s testimony was it tangible what the threat by Gribkowsky had looked like, prosecutor Martin Bauer, who had questioned Ecclestone at Gribkowsky’s trial, said Friday as a witness. "It’s all very vague – like a vanilla pudding you can’t nail to the wall."

Desire to retain power

But Weiss said prosecutors continue to assume that the real reason for the million-dollar payment to Gribkowsky was Ecclestone’s desire to retain power at the top of Formula One. "The question of the reason and motive will be the subject of the taking of evidence," said prosecutor Weib.

According to the indictment, Ecclestone wanted to use the money to ensure that Gribkowsky sold the majority stake in Formula 1, which at the time belonged to the Landesbank, to his preferred investor CVC – because then he would be allowed to remain at the helm of the racing series that he built up and still controls today. If convicted, he faces the end at the helm of Formula 1.

Things will get exciting on Friday, May 9. Then Gribkowsky will testify as a witness. He was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for bribery and is now considered the main witness against Ecclestone.