German prosecutors question Ecclestone extortion claim
By Jörn Poltz
MUNICH Germany (Reuters) - German prosecutors cast doubt on assertions by Bernie Ecclestone that he had been the victim of extortion when the Formula One boss returned to court on Friday in a bribery trial where he faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
The 83-year-old Briton is accused of bribing now-jailed banker Gerhard Gribkowsky by channeling $44 million to him in return for smoothing the sale of a stake in Formula One to the private equity firm CVC eight years ago.
They say that Ecclestone favored CVC as the new owner because it was committed to keeping him on as chief executive of a business he had built into a global money spinner over the previous three decades.
Ecclestone admits making multi-million dollar payments to Gribkowsky but says this was to silence the German who he said was threatening to make false claims about his tax status that could have jeopardized his fortune.
"It was never really clear what form this threat could have taken," said Martin Bauer, a public prosecutor who took evidence from Ecclestone after the arrest of Gribkowsky in 2011.
Bauer said Ecclestone had spoken merely of Gribkowsky being able to make things uncomfortable for him without specifying how. Ecclestone, who denied wrongdoing when he went on trial last week, followed Friday's proceedings through an interpreter.
NEW DEFENSE TACTICS Continued...