| LONDON, June 21
LONDON, June 21 Formula One chief Bernie
Ecclestone said on Thursday that paying a German banker, who
admitted in court to taking bribes during the sale of a stake in
the motor-racing business, had been a "bit stupid".
Ecclestone's role has come under the spotlight after
BayernLB's former chief risk officer Gerhard
Gribkowsky told a Munich court on Wednesday he had allowed
himself to be bribed during the sale of the bank's 48 percent
shareholding in 2006.
Ecclestone, 81, told Reuters that Gribkowsky had been
putting him under pressure over his tax affairs. He paid some 10
million pounds ($16 million) to the banker to "keep him quiet"
and not as alleged to smooth the sale of the Formula One stake
to private equity firm CVC Capital Partners.
Gribkowsky is on trial for breach of trust and tax evasion
over a payment of 45 million euros ($57 million) he received and
a judge has said he could face nine years in prison.
"I have always said that we gave him money but it was not
for what he said," said Ecclestone, who appeared as a witness at
the trial last November.
"He was shaking me down a bit and saying I had control of a
family trust which was not true," said Ecclestone, speaking by
telephone from the Spanish city of Valencia ahead of this
weekend's European Grand Prix.
"He was doing the best he could. I was a little bit stupid -
normally I would have told him to get lost," he said.
FLOAT ON HOLD
The billionaire said his tax arrangements had been cleared
by the British authorities two years later but at the time he
had not wanted to get drawn into a potentially hugely expensive
legal fight. The comments echo testimony Ecclestone gave to the
"The downside was it could have cost 2 billion (pounds), so
I paid him. My payment was just over 10 million pounds. As a
business guy, I thought that was the better deal," said
CVC retained Ecclestone as head of the business after the
deal. Despite his age, the diminutive Briton remains the central
figure in running a sport which is expected to generate revenue
of $2 billion this year and there is no obvious successor.
CVC had had a majority stake in Formula One, the high-speed
motor racing series, since 2006 but has been whittling that down
in deals in recent months and now has around 35 percent.
U.S. asset management company Waddell & Reed has
built up a 20.9-percent stake for an investment of around $1.6
Formula One put plans for a flotation in Singapore this
month on hold because of market volatility, but Ecclestone said
the intention was still to proceed.
"It was just simply that the market is a bit turbulent. Why
go into the market and battle against something? It wasn't
necessary," he said.
"Everything is being prepared. When markets look a bit more
stable, they will push the button and go."
($1 = 0.7873 euro = 0.6354 pound)
(Editing by Clare Fallon)