Formula 1 commercial chieftain Bernie Ecclestone will stand trial in Germany amid allegations of bribery relating to the sale of the sport’s commercial rights in 2006, court officials stated on Thursday.
Ecclestone was indicted last July in connection to an alleged 45 million euro [$61m] bribe that he paid to German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky eight years ago. Judges in Munich have been deliberating ever since over whether there was enough evidence to take the matter to court.
Gribkowsky has already been jailed for accepting the payment after confessing to taking a bribe while he was a representative of German bank Bayern LB. Ecclestone, however, has always insisted that he was innocent and denied that the payment was a bribe. Instead, he has maintained he was forced to pay the money because he had been threatened with having his family trust fund investigated by tax officials.
Following months of speculation about the Munich prosecutors’ next move, spokeswoman Margarete Noetzel said that a trial would now happen and was likely to start in April.
The development has cast fresh doubts over Ecclestone’s future as F1 figurehead, although the sport’s owners CVC have consistently stood by him. In a statement issued last year when it was announced that Ecclestone had been indicted, CVC said it was happy for him to carry on in his position while monitoring developments.
“The Board will continue to monitor developments in this situation accordingly,” said the CVC statement.
Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph last year, however, Ecclestone reckoned that CVC would seek to replace him if he was found guilty.
“[It] will probably be forced to get rid of me if the Germans come after me,” he said. “It’s pretty obvious, if I’m locked up.”