My son works in Formula 1 and despite the recession it remains one of the most profitable businesses in the world. It is controled by Bernie Ecclestone, a tiny little man with grey hair and a very tall ex-wife.
Allegations of bribery are being aired in a German court today. The allegations come as Mr Ecclestone takes the stand in Germany to give evidence in the criminal trial against Dr Gribkowsky. The case is running in parallel with civil action being taken in the UK. The documents allege Mr Ecclestone paid a bribe to ensure he retained control of F1 after its 2006 sale to CVC Partners. Mr Ecclestone has previously claimed it was to stop false allegations of his tax affairs being reported to HM Revenue & Customs. It is alleged that it was Mr Ecclestone who initiated the payment of bribes, offering to open an account in Singapore containing $80m to influence the sale of F1. The document suggests Gerhard Gribkowsky, the German investment banker on trial in Germany, turned down the $80m preferring to set up a series of consultancy agreements to receive the funds.
Here is what it is suggested. First a $66m payment was made by German bank Bayern Landesbank to Mr Ecclestone and his family trust. The two entities then paid Dr Gribkowsky, the Bayern investment banker who ran the sale, $44m as the alleged bribe. According to legal papers, the alleged bribes resulted in Bayern's 47pc in F1 being sold to CVC for $814m rather than the $2.8bn it was really worth. The material undervaluation is alleged to have lost previous owners of F1 Constantin Medien roughly $171m in a profit share agreement.
Mr Ecclestone has claimed he was strong-armed into making the payments under pressure from Dr Gribkowsky. Court documents dispute that view. "Mr Ecclestone's allegation that the payments related to threats…rather than to the disposal of the BayernLB holding is untrue." Instead the case brought by German media group Constantin Medien alleges Mr Ecclestone was attempting to retain control of the sport. "It is to be inferred Mr Ecclestone's motivation for promoting the acquisition by CVC was to safeguard his practical control of the Formula 1 companies."
England is the home of the best automotive engineering in the world, supplying men and material for most forms of autosport. It is sad to think that such engineering excellence is being corrupted by businessmen who do not know right from wrong.
And to think that Tony Blair was content with only £1 million from Bernie Ecclestone for keeping cigarette advertising on British Television. How many lives did that cost?