Herbies, Hogan Lovells wins as High Court throws out £85m Ecclestone bribery claim

Herbert Smith Freehills partner Rupert Lewis and 4 Stone Buildings have won a major battle in the High Court for Formula One tycoon Bernie Ecclestone.

Mr Justice Newey this morning threw out a major case against Ecclestone from former owner of F1 Constantin Medien, who was represented by Peters & Peters partner Keith Oliver in the £85m case.

Rupert Lewis
Rupert Lewis

Medien alleged that he suffered substantial losses as a result of payments that were paid to the fourth defendant, Gerhard Gribkowsky, then chief risk officer of state-owned Bayerische Landesbank (BayernLB).

It was claimed that those payments were intended to ensure that BayernLB sold its stake in Formula One to a buyer who was supportive of Ecclestone. It was claimed that those payments, totalling $44m, were paid in part by Ecclestone himself.

Medien is the successor owner of F1, who had a contractual entitlement to receive a percentage of the proceeds of the sale should it be sold above a set threshold.

As result of the bribe, Medien claimed, the sale was made at half its real price, causing it to lose out on a profit-sharing agreement.

Ecclestone’s legal adviser, Stephen Mullens and an Ecclestone family trust, Bambino Holdings, were also named as defendants in the case. Hogan Lovells of counsel Neil Dooley was instructed for Mullens while Edwards Wildman Palmer partner Kevin Perry was instructed for Bambino.

Newey J said there had been a “corrupt” deal with Gribkowsky, who is currently serving an eight-and-a-half year prison sentence after being convicted of tax evasion, bribery and breach of fiduciary duty over his involvement in the controversial sale of F1 to CVC in 2005.

The judge branded the payments “a bribe”, in which Gribkowsky was to be “rewarded for facilitating the sale of BLB’s shares in the Formula One group to a buyer acceptable to Mr Ecclestone”. His aim in doing so was to wrest control of F1 away from the banks and to ensure the shares were sold to “someone more congenial to him”.

There was, however, no intention for the shares to be sold at an undervalue, neither was it believed by Ecclestone or Mullens had, “any desire for the shares to be sold at an undervalue or believed the price at which they were in fact sold to be below market value”.

The case was dismissed on the grounds that, “no loss to Constantin has been shown to have been caused by the corrupt arrangement with Dr Gribkowsky. That fact is fatal to the claim as against all the defendants”, the judge concluded.

For the claimant Constantin Medien

Serle Court’s Philip Marshall QC, David Blayney QC, James Mather and Emma Hargreaves, instructed by Peters & Peters partner Keith Oliver.

For the first defendant (1) Bernie Ecclestone:

4 Stone Buildings’ Robert Miles QC and Richard Hill QC instructed alongside Richard Hill QC, instructed by Herbert Smith partner Rupert Lewis

For the second defendant (2) Stephen Mullens:

South Square’s Tom Smith, instructed by Hogan Lovells partner Laurence Crowley and of counsel Neil Dooley

For the third defendant Bambino Holdings Ltd:

Brick Court’s Mark Hapgood QC and Michael Bools QC instructed by Edwards Wildman partner Kevin Perry

For the fourth defendant (4) Gerhard Gribkowsky:

Unrepresented