Ecclestone already gave statement

German banker admits to alleged bribes in Formula One case

A former German banking executive said in court that he accepted $44 million in alleged bribes from Formula 1 mogul Bernie Ecclestone in connection with a 2005 sale of a stake in the auto-racing franchise.

Gerhard Gribkowsky, the former chief risk officer of German lender BayernLB, said in a Munich court Wednesday that he admitted to the charges brought by state prosecutors, according to a court spokeswoman.

Gribkowsky was arrested early last year after Munich prosecutors launched a probe into allegations that he accepted bribes from Ecclestone to divest BayernLB's stake in Formula 1 for far below the actual value.

BayernLB sold its roughly 50 percent stake in Formula One's holding company to CVC Capital Partners for an undisclosed amount in 2005. Industry insiders at the time estimated the company was valued at between $2 billion and $4 billion.

Ecclestone stayed on as chief executive of Formula 1 and retained a minority stake.

Ecclestone, who hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing, testified in November that he paid the money after feeling threatened by Gribkowsky.

German prosecutors alleged that payments to Gribkowsky were funneled through Austrian accounts without being declared for taxes.

BayernLB, Lehman Brothers and J.P. Morgan Chase secured a combined 75 percent equity stake in Formula 1 in 2002, part of a debt settlement plan from the bankruptcy of German media company Kirch Group.

All three banks had been lenders to Kirch, but BayernLB got the biggest portion of the Formula 1 stake -- about 50 percent -- as Kirch's assets were divvied up.

A BayernLB spokesman declined to comment and referred requests to the state of Bavaria's finance ministry, which has a controlling stake in the bank.

Attempts to contact Gribkowsky's lawyers, Ecclestone and the Bavarian finance ministry for comment late Wednesday were unsuccessful.

CVC has denied knowledge or involvement in any payments to Gribkowsky or anyone else.

Gribkowsky faces up to several years in prison if found guilty of the charges against him.

A decision in the case is expected to be reached next week. German law prescribes leniency when the accused assists the court in determining facts leading to a conviction.