What is it about German businessmen, high-profile people, serious cash money, and jails?
We here in Canada know all about German businessman Karlheinz Schreiber, former prime minister Brian Mulroney, Airbus passenger planes, thousands of dollars in white envelopes that passed between them, and jail for Schreiber at the end of the day.
Now, tongues in Europe are wagging over the latest revelations in the strange case of German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky, Bernie Ecclestone, the sale of Formula One and $40 or $50-million in either commissions or bribes.
The German Bribkowsky is in jail awaiting trial on charges of corrruption, tax fraud and breach of trust.
Ecclestone, who has been saying for months that he never paid any money to Gribkowsky and that he would sue if anyone said in print that he did, has now met with German prosecutors to say that he did, indeed, give millions of dollars to Gribkowsky but there were sinister reasons for it.
(I know I’m getting ahead of myself here, but my question would be: if you are being blackmailed into paying somebody forty or fifty million dollars, would you not perhaps complain to the police? I mean $40 or $50 million is a lot of cabbage, even for a guy as wealthy as Bernie Ecclestone.)
In any event, this is apparently the scenario being played out.
Gribkowsky worked for the German bank BayernLB. Among the allegations is that he influenced Bayern to sell its 48 per cent stake in Formula One in 2006 to CVC Capital Partners (the current owners) without a proper evaluation of its worth and for this he was paid what’s being called a consultancy fee of $50 million.
The prosecutors allege that Gribkowsky did not declare the consultancy fee as income and thus was evading tax. The bank, meantime, wants him prosecuted for misrepresenting their interests.
Several German newspaper have suggested that Ecclestone rewarded Gribkowsky for saving his empoloyer, CVC, money in the transaction. CVC has denied any knowledge of, or involvement in, any scheme.
Ecclestone, whose first instinct is to deny anything and everything, threatened to sue.
"What the German newspapers speculate or the prosecutor suspects is false," Ecclestone told the newspaper the Bild.
"I did not bribe him. I have nothing to do with those payments to Gribkowsky. I would not know why I would have given him money. He was in the negotiations on my side. I did not need to convince him."
He added: "If the German newspapers write that I had something to do with the payments, which is absolute nonsense, I will take them to court."
Now, he’s reportedly saying that he paid the money as the result of extortion.
The German weekly news magazine Focus claims that Ecclestone is being accused by Munich prosecutors of aiding and abetting a breach of trust and, as a result, he is alleging that Gribkowsky blackmailed him to the tune of $40 million by threatening to divulge sensitive information about his businesses.
Austria's Salzburger Nachrichten, meantime, said that Ecclestone may be electing to cooperate with authorities now in the hope of receiving a lighter penalty in the event any wrongdoing is found.
The last time Ecclestone denied something outright was the report last week that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. is in talks to purchase F1. "Absolute rubbish," he roared.
Maybe there’s some truth to that one, too.