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F1 tycoon Bernie Ecclestone will pay $100m to end his trial...for bribery

The Formula One boss appeared in a Munich court today.

A GERMAN COURT ruled this afternoon that Formula One tycoon Bernie Ecclestone can pay a controversial $100-million settlement, rather than face trial on bribery charges.

In a move that will likely see him stay at the helm of the lucrative sport, the 83-year-old Briton struck an accord with prosecutors on the huge payment which then got the Munich tribunal’s blessing.

“The proceedings will be temporarily suspended with the agreement of the prosecution and the accused,” pending payment of the settlement within one week, presiding judge Peter Noll said.

The $100-million (€75 million) payment is reportedly the largest accord of its kind in German criminal justice history.

Noll said $99 million would go to the Bavarian state coffers while $1 million would be donated to a “child hospice foundation”.

He had asked Ecclestone through an interpreter whether he would be able to make the payment within a week, to which he replied: “yes”.

Ecclestone went on trial in the southern city of Munich in April on charges of paying a $44-million bribe to a Bavarian state bank executive for help in maintaining his four-decade grip on Formula One.

He was 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.

germany-f1-ecclestone-trial-2-390x285 Source: Matthias Schrader

A settlement is allowed in German criminal cases if the prosecution, the aggrieved parties and the court agree, but the Ecclestone deal has stoked fierce criticism.

Court spokesman Andrea Titz said the judges had determined that a conviction was “not particularly likely” based on the evidence presented until now.

Under the terms of the agreement, Ecclestone will not have a criminal record and should be able to retain his control of the multi-billion-dollar Formula One empire.

He has attended most of the hearings in person and arrived at the courthouse today in a limousine, looking relaxed and accompanied by his wife, Fabiana Flosi.

Ecclestone’s defence team and prosecutors struck the deal, first reported on Saturday in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, to settle the case with a one-time payment rather than continue with proceedings that had been scheduled to last at least until October.

‘These millions stink to high heaven’

News of the accord drew angry condemnation of a legal proviso in Germany that allows defendants to “buy” a dismissal in some instances.

Former justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger had blasted the possible Ecclestone deal Monday as “galling” and “not in harmony with the sense and purpose of our legal practices”.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung lashed out at a deal in which “the briber is supposed to be washed clean with a spectacular payment”.

“The saying goes ‘money doesn’t stink’ but that’s wrong here: these millions stink to high heaven.”

And the top-selling Bild denounced “the bitter impression that not everyone is equal before the law”.

The Formula One magnate has denied any wrongdoing, but could have faced a jail term of up to 10 years if found guilty.

© – AFP 2014

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