Ecclestone offers $100m to end trial

LONDON - The Formula One boss, Bernie Ecclestone, has offered to make a $100m (£60m) payment to end his trial on bribery charges, a district court in Munich has said. State prosecutors told the court they would agree to accept his offer.

Ecclestone, 83, went on trial in Munich in April over allegations he bribed a former German banker as part of the sale of a major stake in the motor sport business eight years ago.

German law provides for some criminal cases to be settled with smaller punishments, such as fines, though the size of the payment in the Ecclestone case has led some to question a system that in effect favours affluent defendants.

The Formula One boss is accused of having paid the former Bayern LB chief risk officer Gerhard Gribkowsky $44m in 2006 in order to ease the sale of the bank's share to a company that had guaranteed to keep Ecclestone as chief executive.

He has admitted paying the money but denied it was a bribe.

The state prosecutor told the court that Ecclestone's advanced age and other circumstances supported the acceptance of a settlement.

A paragraph in the German criminal code allows for trials to be ended under conditions which are "appropriate for resolving the public interest in a prosecution," as long as the gravity of wrongdoing does not outweigh this.

In practice, wealthy defendants have in the past used this clause to buy their way out of trials. But no one has ever paid so high a sum as has been agreed with Ecclestone.

Speaking on German radio yesterday, Germany's former justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger called the deal "cheeky." If it were to go through, she said, "it would not be consistent with the spirit and purpose of our legal system".

The amount of the sum on the table proved that Ecclestone's wrongdoing was weighty enough, she added, that such a deal was inappropriate in this case and called for lawmakers to tighten the loophole. – Press Association

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