In November of 2005, an American private equity firm named Bluewaters offered to pay $1 billion for a 47.2-percent stake in F1. The shares were being sold by a German company called BayernLB, which employed Gerhard Gribkowsky as its chief risk officer.
As Autoweek explains, Bernie Ecclestone paid $44 million to Gribkowsky, but here’s where details really get murky. In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. by Bluewaters, it’s alleged that the money was paid as a bribe by Ecclestone, who wanted Gribkowsky to sell the BayernLB shares to CVC Capital Partners, for less money than Bluewaters offered.
Ecclestone admits to paying the money, but claims it was extortion on the part of Gribkowsky, who threatened to lie to tax authorities in the U.K. about the status of a trust established by Ecclestone. The F1 czar alleges that paying the bribe was easier and less financially impactive than risking an investigation by authorities.
Last summer, a Munich court sentenced Gribkowsky to eight years in prison on bribery charges, although this is neither a statement for nor a statement against Ecclestone. While it’s clear that Gribkowsky accepted a bribe from Ecclestone, the real reason for that payment remains murky.
In the case’s latest development, Ecclestone is now claiming that he’s not governed by U.S. law, as he doesn’t reside in the U.S., owns no real estate here, has no business offices on these shores and employs only attorneys defending the lawsuit. We suppose that his daughter’s $85 million California mansion is in her own name, not dad’s.
If that’s not enough, Ecclestone claims that the events prompting Bluewaters’ suit occurred in Europe and the Middle East, and that no money changed hands through New York banks. In other words, Ecclestone is counting himself out of the Bluewaters lawsuit, even if the plaintiff is counting him in.
The Bluewater lawsuit isn’t the only legal matter on Ecclestone’s plater these days, either. Another former F1 investor, Constantin Media, has filed suit against Gribkowsky and Ecclestone in the London High Court, and it’s unlikely that Ecclestone can make the same claims about not being governed by British law.
Don’t expect a resolution any time soon, as the original case has been ongoing since 2011. When paying a $44 million bribe sounds like a reasonable thing to do, chances are that you can fund your attorneys for a long, long time.