In what may amount to the story of the summer break in Formula 1 racing this year, President and CEO of Formula 1 Management, Bernie Ecclestone, settled a bribery case against him in Germany on Tuesday, August 5. In exchange for a $100 million payment, Ecclestone walks away from the case having been deemed neither guilty nor innocent and is now free from what could have been a sentence of 10 years in prison.
According to the BBC, there is a provision in German law that allows for such an exchange to take place, and both Ecclestone's lawyer and prosecutors made use of it to seal the deal. On Tuesday, prosecutors accepted the settlement offer from Ecclestone, 83, listed by "Forbes" as the twelfth wealthiest billionaire in the U.K. with $4.2 billion.
When presented with the arrangement in court, Judge Peter Noll asked Ecclestone if he could pay the $100 million, and he responded, "Yes," according to the BBC. When asked if he could raise the funds within a week, Ecclestone's defense attorney Sven Thomas replied, "That's doable." Ecclestone has maintained that he is innocent throughout the whole ordeal.
Noll ruled that of the $100 million, $99 million would go to the Bavarian state and $1 million would be donated to a children's hospital.
According to the "New York Times," Ecclestone was accused of paying a $44 million bribe to a German banker so that the banker would approve the 2006 sale of a stake in Formula 1 to CVC Capital Ventures. In the sale, Ecclestone still maintained his control of the sport. Ironically, the banker, Gerhard Gribkowsky, was later convicted following the money exchange and is now serving an 8-1/2-year prison term. If Ecclestone had been convicted, CVC Capital Ventures would have removed him from his responsibilities in the sport.
Ecclestone admitted to making the payment to Gribkowsky but claimed the banker was blackmailing him, threatening to send information to authorities implicating him in an alleged tax evasion scheme, a claim Ecclestone has also denied.
According to the "New York Times," court spokesperson Andrea Titz said of Tuesday's court ruling, "The court did not consider a conviction overwhelmingly likely from the present point of view. With this type of ending... there is no ruling on guilt or innocence of the defendant. Rather, this is a special way of ending a procedure that is in theory available to all types of cases."
Criticism of the "special way" the matter was handled erupted on Tuesday. Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, for example, Germany’s justice minister until 2013, said, according the "New York Times," "This is something we would massively criticize in other countries. The issue should be, did someone commit a serious crime — in this case corruption, bribery and a breach of trust — or not?"
For his part, on Wednesday, August 6, Ecclestone commented according to BBC Sports, "I was a bit of an idiot to do what I did to settle because it wasn't with the judge, it was with the prosecutors." He said the judge was set to acquit him, but he wanted to get rid of the case that has plagued him for the last few years and would likely continue into October of this year. "They really didn't have a case," Ecclestone said. "Anyway, it's done and finished, so it's all right. I'm content - it's all fine. This now allows me to do what I do best, which is running F1."
The racing series will now continue under the stewardship of Ecclestone, who has been commuting to Munich in between races in a season of 19 events on five continents around the world. His age and health were raised as pertinent issues in the settlement.
Formula 1 is now in its summer hiatus. Racing will pick up again on August 24 with the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. According to Formula 1, Nico Rosberg and Mercedes are currently leading the 2014 championship for drivers and constructors.