Ecclestone denies £26m payment was a bribe

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Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has rejected accusations of bribery as he went on trial in a case that could threaten his grip on the sport.

Ecclestone told a Munich court that a German banker who received a disputed $44m (£26m) payment did not tell the truth.

Ecclestone said in a personal statement read out in German by his lawyers that he was “grateful” to be able to give his side of the story, although he told judges that he would answer questions from the Munich state court through his lawyers, rather than personally.

Ecclestone, 83, is charged with bribery and incitement to breach of trust, and could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

The charges involve a $44m (£26m) payment to banker Gerhard Gribkowsky, who is serving an 8.5-year sentence for taking the money.

Prosecutors allege the payment was meant to facilitate the sale of Munich-based bank Bayern LB’s stake in Formula One to a buyer of Ecclestone’s liking. Gribkowsky was in charge of selling that 47 per cent stake in F1 in 2005.

Ecclestone gave evidence during Gribkowsky’s trial in 2011 and Gribkowsky is expected to be the main witness during Ecclestone’s trial, which is scheduled to last until September 16.

Gribkowsky was found guilty of corruption, tax evasion and breach of trust in a trial led by the same judge who is hearing Ecclestone’s case, Peter Noll.

The defence made clear that it will attack Gribkowsky’s credibility, and Ecclestone said in his statement that the banker did not tell the truth.

Ecclestone has said in the past that he was “shaken down”.

In yesterday’s statement, Ecclestone reiterated evidence he gave at Gribkowsky’s trial that he gave the banker the money because he was worried Gribkowsky would falsely accuse of him of being in charge of a trust fund set up for the Formula One boss’s former wife and their children, possibly incurring a huge British tax bill.

The trial continues.