F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone walks free after $100M settlement

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Story highlights

  • German court orders Bernie Ecclestone to pay $100 million
  • Sum is a settlement to end F1 supremo's trial on bribery charges
  • Ecclestone has been given a week to pay the fine
  • The 83-year-old had been facing up to 10 years in jail if found guiltuy

The head of Formula One has avoided possible conviction on bribery charges after agreeing to pay $100 million.

A German court ruled Tuesday that it would accept an offer from Bernie Ecclestone to bring an early end to proceedings, which had already lasted three months.

Presiding judge Peter Noll gave the 83-year-old British businessman a week to make payments of $99 million to the Bavarian state treasury and $1 million to a local charity which looks after terminally ill children.

Ecclestone, who has always denied any wrongdoing, was accused of bribing a German banker eight years go over the sale of a controlling interest in the company that runs the elite division of motorsport.

Bernie Ecclestone has been involved in motorsport since the 1950s.

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Under German law there is a provision to halt criminal proceedings to avoid long and costly court cases where a conviction might be difficult to achieve and after a negotiation between prosecutors and the defense.

"While charges could have been pursued against the accused, the court took into consideration the age of the accused, his health and the considerable burden of attending court in a foreign country with all the language difficulties that entails and the public attention," Noll said in his summing up.

Ecclestone, whose fortune is valued by Forbes at over $4 billion, was asked by Noll if he could make the payment. "Yes" came the reply.

    Ecclestone's defense lawyer Sven Thomas added: "That's do-able."

    It brought down the curtain on proceedings in Munich that could have ended in a jail sentence of up to 10 years and the loss of his position at the helm of F1.

    Outside the court, Thomas told reporters: "This is not about a conviction, but a cessation of the trial with no admission of guilt.

    "There will be no guilty verdict whatsoever and that clearly changes the situation in terms of the evidence and legal position, otherwise the talks between the prosecution and defense would not have been possible."

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    The controversy dates back to 2006, when the German regional bank BayernLB sold its 47.2% stake in F1 to the current majority shareholder, CVC Capital Partners -- a private equity firm.

    The prosecution claimed Ecclestone paid Gerhard Gribkowsky, formerly the chief risk officer of BayernLB, a sweetener of $44 million to steer the sale to CVC, so he could remain in charge of F1.

    Ecclestone admitted the payment to Gribhowsky, but only after the banker threatened to make damaging claims about his tax status to Britain's HM Revenue and Customs.

    The case revealed that he had avoided a £1.2 billion ($2 billion) bill through a legal tax avoidance scheme, and had settled with British tax authorities by paying £10 million.

    He has been attending court, mostly accompanied by his wife Fabiana Flos, for two days per week while still running F1 -- a job he has held for over 40 years.

    Ecclestone had been warned by CVC that a guilty verdict would have resulted him being losing that coveted role, having won a civil case in Britain in February after being accused of undervaluing F1 in the sale.

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