Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has been giving evidence in a Munich court as the star witness in the trial of a German former banker accused of receiving bribes from the motorsport chief.
Ecclestone’s testimony – Formula One’s commercial rights holder who has run the sport for nearly 40 years – was keenly awaited in the trial of Gerhard Gribkowsky, who is accused of corruption, tax evasion and embezzlement.
The German is alleged to have received bribes worth millions from Britain’s Ecclestone between 2006 and 2007 over the sale of the Formula One rights to CVC, the investment firm which owns most of the multi-billion-dollar sport.
The sale was crucial to Ecclestone as the British private investor fund wanted to retain him as the head of the sport.
The 81-year-old Ecclestone faces no charges and denies having bribed Gribkowsky, 53, to make sure that Formula One was sold to CVC.
On Wednesday, the Briton told the court he had paid Gribkowsky because he had little alternative, indicating the German had threatened him.
“He wanted some money to start his own business,” said Ecclestone.
“My thought was, maybe I can keep him quiet, maybe I can keep him peaceful.”
In 2006, Gribkowsky was the chief risk officer for BayernLB, one of Germany’s biggest banks, which had acquired the rights to Formula One in 2002.
Prosecutors allege Gribkowsky wanted to start a new life as a motorsport executive and possibly even succeed Ecclestone as the sport’s controller.
They claim the financial arrangements between the two men caused damages to the bank worth $66.5 million (48.9 million euros).
Gribkowsky’s defence has said the German acted within his rights and had been the victim of a “witch hunt” by investigators, perhaps envious of his wealth.
Although Gribkowsky had received a large sum of money for his services, it was appropriate in the small world of Formula One, according to his defence.
The banker has been held in custody since January and his assets have been frozen.