Opinion: Bernie Ecclestone Bribery Trial

Lets start with a hypothetical question. What would you say I had done in this situation? I want to go to Brands Hatch at the end of the month to cover the British GT/BRDC Formula 4 weekend. Say that my Editor wants me to go to Silverstone to cover something else. I say to my Editor, if you let me go to Brands I’ll give you a hundred quid. What have I done? I’ve bribed the boss.

Second hypothetical question. I run a bank and my traders do some rather naughty things with a certain benchmark interest rate. The Financial Conduct Authority does its investigation and decides my bank is as guilty as sin. I agree to pay a rather large fine to the FCA so that they don’t take me to court. What I have done here is agree to take the guilt of the crime without the embarrassment of the trial. I did the crime but avoided the time.

Last week Bernard Charles Ecclestone reached an agreement with the courts in Bavaria to pay a reported £60 Million payment to end his trial in relation to bribery charges. Under German law this is a perfectly legitimate method of settling a criminal case and does not constitute acceptance of guilt. Technically that doesn’t mean that Bernie has bribed the courts.

I have a couple of questions to pose here. Firstly if Bernie was innocent of the charges why did he agree to pay the fine? Second, if he is innocent of the crime, why is the man he was accused of bribing spending time at Angela Merkel’s pleasure for taking the bribe Bernie didn’t offer? Third, regardless of the legality or otherwise of his actions, is he the right person to head up Formula One Management.

On question one, why would Bernie pay the fine if he was innocent? While the payment doesn’t mean guilt in Germany, if he could have proven his innocence, wouldn’t he have saved himself $100,000,000 and fought the case to a successful conclusion. The only conceivable reason a man who has such a well proven talent for accruing wealth would pay the fine is that he couldn’t prove his own innocence.

On question two I have to admit that Bernie was given a bit of a raw deal. Firstly being tried for bribery after the man that you are supposed to have bribed has been convicted for the offence, makes it difficult for the accused to have an unbiased trial. That was added to by the fact that the judge assigned to sit on Bernie Ecclestone’s case is the same judge who sent Gerhard Gribkowsky, the German banker at the center of the bribery case to jail. I think we may have to cut Bernie a bit of slack on this front.

On to question three, is Bernie the right person to be heading up FOM? In short, my opinion says no. I will point out that it is my opinion only and not the opinion of The Checkered Flag, its officers or associates. There are a couple of reasons for my opinion, not least the fact that he is more than a little bit batty. Can anyone recall the Formula Sprinkler debacle or his demonstrated opinion on taking F1 to countries with diabolical human rights records? Then there is the way he is using his power in Formula 1 and his control over the F1 world streams to send messages to his buddies on live TV.

So he isn’t a convicted criminal. Neither was Flavio Briatore but he was banned from F1 for effectively bringing the sport into disrepute after the Crashgate scandal. Nothing Flav was accused of represented a crime, just bad judgement. Bernie has twice been tried on charges of Bribery, in both the UK and Germany. In the UK case he was let off but only after the judge launched a damning indictment on his character, he was also forced to pay his own costs despite winning because of his ‘untruthful evidence’.

In football there is a ‘fit and proper person’ test which is applied to potential owners of teams. Surely it is time for the FIA to bring in a similar test for Formula 1. I am not just advocating this for Bernie’s role either, it should be applied to team owners too because the sport is too high profile and too big budget for anyone to mess about with its public image.

With a successor waiting in the wings there is no reason at all why Ecclestone has to be at the top of the F1. Regardless of the good he has done, and I grant you in his many years in control of F1 he has done a lot of good, it is time for F1 to change before it is further contaminated by doubt and controversy linked to Bernard Charles Ecclestone.

  • Dave Rooker

    well said-totally agree

  • Lovejoint

    Me too!

  • PIV

    I think you missed the point, the German judge actually felt that the case against Bernie was slim. Many things agrred with Bernie’s account, not with what Gribkowsky said. If Bernie was right then Gribkowsky was still wrong and should still be in jail. Bernie could not have paid up to get out of the court case if he was clearly guilty. He paid up to stop having to fly to Germany for 2 days a week of court meetings, which were going to continue for many months. At his age time is more important than money. So if he was innocent but had to spend 2/7 of every week, including flying time maybe 3/7 of each week for say 3 months to prove he is innocent, or pay some money? Pay the money. Plus it took away the chance of him being found guilty. Courts are not perfect. Innocent people get found guilty. So him paying is not a clear sign he is guilty, far from it. Your article makes some pretty big assumptions and misses some pretty important points of the case, and of German law.

  • Jay Wentz

    Great story. Many very correct assumptions. I never understood how the guy who was bribed is guilty but the guy who bribed him isn’t. Maybe that is correct for German law but it’s pretty disgusting!

  • Nick Smith

    Thank you for a differing view. There are two different ways to look at the settlement and you make an interesting case for the ‘pro-Bernie’ argument. I cant say you have swayed me but you have given me something to think about.

  • PIV

    A lot of witnesses said things that supported Bernie’s case. There was no undervaluation of F1, Gribkowsky didn’t have the authority to sell F1 without the bank’s board’s approval. And Gribkowsky even tried to blackmail Bernie over his tax earlier in their negotiations. So these things supported Bernie’s argument and not Gribkowsky’s. Plus Bernie never changed his statement. He had one story and a lot of people said things that supported his story. People who were often against Bernie, not on his team. So whatever the truth, Bernie had a very strong case and was most likely going to win.