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Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone indicted on bribery charge

German prosecutors have indicted Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone on a bribery charge.

The charge relates to a $44m (£29m) payment to a German banker, Gerhard Gribkowsky of Bayern Landesbank. It was linked to the sale of a stake in F1.

Mr Ecclestone said he had paid Mr Gribkowsky to avoid a UK tax inquiry into the sale of Formula 1 in 2006, but he denies the payments were bribes.

Mr Gribkowsky was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in jail in Munich.

Speaking to the Financial Times on Wednesday, Mr Ecclestone said: "I have just spoken to my lawyers and they have received an indictment. It's being translated into English."

Asked how he responded to the indictment, he said: "We are defending it properly. It will be an interesting case. It's a pity it's happened."

Mr Ecclestone said it was "inevitable" that the indictment had been served by the Munich court. "If someone wants to sue you, they can do it and you have to defend it," he said.

He has until mid-August to respond to the charges. The court will then decide whether to take the case to trial - it could be heard by mid-September.

Mr Ecclestone faces a possible jail term if found guilty, something he has previously said would force him to stand down as head of F1.

His lawyer told the Financial Times the indictment was largely based on statements from Gribkowsky, and that Mr Ecclestone intended to dispute these.

'Only alternative'

BayernLB acquired a 47% stake in Formula 1 after its previous owner, German media group Kirch, went bust.

In 2006, Gribkowsky was put charge of managing the bank's sale of the stake to private equity firm CVC Capital Partners, which meant the firm owned most of the sport.

CVC has since reduced its stake in a series of deals. It has not commented on the indictment.

In evidence to a Munich court in June last year, Gribkowsky admitted that prosecution claims he had corruptly received $41.4m (£26.6m) in bank commissions, and a large payment via a family trust - the Bambino Trust - from Mr Ecclestone, were "essentially true".

In his testimony, Mr Ecclestone said he had been worried that if he had not paid the money, Gribkowsky would have alerted the UK tax authorities to "things" that might have led to a tax inquiry.

He believed Gribkowsky intended to tell the UK tax authorities that Mr Ecclestone was secretly in charge of the Bambino Trust, which is in his ex-wife's name.

Mr Ecclestone said at the time that the claim was false, but that proving it "would have been very expensive for me".

"The tax risk would have exceeded £2bn. I paid him to keep calm and not to do silly things," he said.

- BBC