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How Ecclestone's German trial closure was possible

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 6, 2014 at 11:04 am •  Published: August 6, 2014
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BERLIN (AP) — Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone's departure from a Munich court with a fleeting "bye-bye" after having bribery charges dropped in exchange for an enormous $100 million payment left a sour taste for many in Germany.

However, while the size of the super-wealthy 83-year-old's payment appears to be unprecedented, the legal device that made it possible is commonly used and the motor-racing boss isn't the first prominent beneficiary. Here's a look at how the deal was possible.

Q: What's the law?

A: Germany's criminal code says prosecutors and courts can agree to close proceedings in exchange for a payment, community service, reparations or other conditions "if the degree of guilt does not present an obstacle."

The possibility is available for any offense carrying a minimum sentence of less than a year in prison — such as the charges Ecclestone faced, bribery and incitement to breach of trust.

It's generally used in cases where both sides are struggling to prove their case. The court delivers no formal verdict, but the defendant isn't convicted and effectively wins a legal stamp of innocence.

Q: Why did Ecclestone benefit?

A: By the time Ecclestone's lawyers called for the trial to be closed, the court had heard more than three months' evidence. It made clear Tuesday it had serious doubts he could be convicted.

Other mitigating circumstances included the Englishman's age and the fact he came to Munich to face the charges although it would have been hard to force him.

Proceedings might have dragged on for months to little avail had the trial continued, tying down judicial officials and leaving Ecclestone spending two days a week in Munich while also running F1.

Q: Where did the $100 million figure come from?

A: It emerged from negotiations between Ecclestone's lawyers and prosecutors, and was endorsed on Tuesday by judges hearing the case.

There's no fixed formula for how much a defendant pays and the figure doesn't reflect the degree of possible guilt.

Judge Peter Noll said Ecclestone had given assurances that $100 million represented "an appreciable portion" of his wealth without overburdening him.

Q: How come another player in the story was convicted but Ecclestone wasn't?

A: The charges centered on a $44 million payment to German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky, who is serving an 8 1/2-year sentence for taking the money. Gribkowsky was already convicted of corruption, tax evasion and breach of trust.

Ecclestone denied wrongdoing and said Gribkowsky, who was in charge of selling public-sector bank BayernLB's 47 percent stake in F1 in 2005, blackmailed him. The court cited doubts whether it could be proved that Ecclestone committed an offense and knew he was doing so. The case against Gribkowsky also involved tax evasion, and in Germany tax evasion cases involving more than 1 million euros ($1.34 million) almost always draw a prison sentence.

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