Bernie Ecclestone, the bribery case and the £60m settlement

Today saw Bernie Ecclestone under fire yet again.

The Formula 1 boss has been reported to have come to a settlement agreement with the German courts to drop the bribery case for which he was due to stand trial. The agreement? A whopping cash donation of $100m (£60m) awarded to the Munich court.

The story, naturally, caused a flurry of tweets amongst the public accusing Ecclestone of ‘bribing his way out of a bribery trial’. As the news broke, tweets including:

@BBCSport: ‘German court to accept $100m offer from Bernie Ecclestone to end bribery charges trial’ …..isn’t this bribery? (via @kaptk1t )”

“F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone offers £60m settlement to end German bribery trial via @guardian Oh the irony!  (via @emma1hartley )”

poured on to the social networking site with most people appearing to be outraged at the news.  But what is the truth?  Is it bribery?

The F1 supremo went to trial in April where he was accused of paying a German banker €33m (£26m) to ensure that his preferred company could buy a stake in Formula 1. He always denied the charges alleging that the banker was in fact the corrupt party and had threatened to make false claims regarding his tax status unless he received the money.

If found guilty, the 83-year-old could have faced a 10-year prison sentence and the end of his reign at the helm of motor racing. The banker himself received a jail term of eight-and-a-half years back in 2012 for accepting bribes.

Under German law this would not be described a bribe. There is a legal proviso that exists to unburden the German courts, and to deal with cases where a judgment could prove difficult, whereby defendants can ‘buy’ their way out of trial. The use of the loophole here was slammed by the former German Justice Minister who hailed the decision to invoke the rule as being “not just bad taste – it’s really insolent”. 

According to Forbes, Bernie Ecclestone’s personal wealth amounts to $4 billion. When Judge Peter Knoll today asked whether or not he could raise $100 million in a week his defence lawyer, Sven Thomas of Thomas Deckers Wehnert & Elsner, stated: “That’s do-able”. The monies are to be split with $99m going to the Bavarian state and $1m to a children’s charity.

Whilst Ecclestone will not be tried and, therefore, never be ruled to have been innocent or guilty, perhaps this was the best outcome.  The F1 boss is an 83-year-old man who would have spent, most probably, his final years in prison had he been found guilty.

To see a percentage of the settlement money go to a children’s charity rather than have the tax payer pay for his upkeep in jail can only be a good thing, surely?

Tim Constable, head of litigation and dispute resolution, Matthew Arnold & Baldwin