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Justice

Ecclestone to pay $100 million to end bribery trial

A German court has agreed to an offer from Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone to pay $100 million to end his bribery case. The prosecution had earlier agreed to the deal.

The presiding judge, Peter Noll, handed down the ruling on Tuesday, just hours after prosecutors told the Munich court that they would accept Ecclestone's offer of $100 million (74.5 million euros) to end the case.

"The proceedings will be temporarily suspended with the agreement of the prosecution and the accused," Judge Noll said. The proceedings are to end for good once Ecclestone has paid the funds, something the judge ordered him to do within a week. Ecclestone replied in the affirmative when Noll asked him through an interpreter whether he would be able to make the payment within this timeframe.

Court spokesperson Andrea Titz told reporters after the decision was handed down that based on the evidence presented so far, "the court did not consider a conviction overwhelmingly likely."

Titz also said the settlement meant that Ecclestone left the court as a free man.

"There was no conclusion on guilt or innocence of the defendant," she said.

Earlier, prosecutors had said the 83-year-old Briton's advanced age and other circumstances surrounding the trial supported the case for accepting the settlement offer.

10-year maximum sentence

Ecclestone could have faced up to 10 years in jail had he been convicted on charges of bribery and breach of trust in connection with the 2006 sale of the rights to Formula One motor racing.

Specifically, he was accused of having paid 44 million dollars to Gerhard Gribkowsky, then an executive with the German bank BayernLB.

Prosecutors alleged that the payment was a bribe to facilitate the sale of F1's commercial rights to their current holders, CVC Capital Partners, at an undervalued price. The "ownership" of the rights, which strictly speaking is a century-long lease, had fallen into BayernLB's lap after the bankruptcy of German media mogul Leo Kirch in 2002.

Ecclestone admitted to the court that he did channel the funds to Gribkowsky, but he denied any wrongdoing.

In 2012, Gribowsky was handed a jail term of eight and a half years for having accepted the funds.

Testimony in previous case

Ecclestone testified as part of Gribkowsky's trial back in November 2011, when he claimed that he had been the victim of a "subtle shake-down" by the former board member and risk assessment manager at BayernLB. Ecclestone said Gribkowsky had subtly made it clear that if he was not paid, he would set into motion a tax audit against Ecclestone and his entire business empire.

Still in the driver's seat

The Englishman, who is credited with building Formula One into a multi-billion-euro business after acquiring the television rights in the 1970s, stepped down from the board of the company, which operates it, after the Munich court ruled back in January that he would have to stand trial. However, even during the trial, which began in April, he had continued to run the business on a day-to-day basis.

pfd/hc (dpa, AP, Reuters, AFP)

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