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Justice

Ecclestone to pay $100 million to settle bribery case

The trial of Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone on bribery charges appears set to end with a settlement. State prosecutors said they would accept his offer of $100 million to end the case.

State prosecutors in the Munich court hearing the trial of the F1 boss said on Tuesday that they would accept his latest offer of $100 million (74.5 million euros) to settle the case, in which he stood accused of bribery and incitement to misappropriation in connection with the 2006 sale of the motor-racing circuit's rights.

Ecclestone had previously offered $25 million to settle the case.

Prosecutors said the 83-year-old Ecclestone's advanced age and other circumstances supported the idea of accepting the settlement. The court was expected to rule on whether to approve the deal later on Tuesday.

By the time the proscecutors announced that they would accept the settlement, it came as little surprise as the court had already told witnesses scheduled to give evidence on Tuesday, not to turn up for the proceedings.

Ecclestone, who was indicted in July 2013, 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 has admitted to channeling the funds to Gribowsky, but denied any wrongdoing.

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

Testimony in Gribowsky 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.

Ecclestone had received immunity from prosecution based on his testimony, but the Munich court also reserved the right to press charges regarding evidence uncovered elsewhere in the case.

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, he has continued to run the business on a day-to-day basis.

CVC Captial had said that if Ecclestone was found guilty, he would be removed from his post as president and chief executive of Formula One Management.

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

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