Bernie Ecclestone is expected to put the corruption scandal behind him on Tuesday and return full-time to formula one. The sport's chief executive has been caught up in a German court trial in the opening half of most weeks recently as he fends off accusations he bribed Gerhard Gribkowsky.
A conviction would have ended his F1 reign and could also have seen him jailed, but he appears to have agreed a $100 million settlement with the Munich authorities that will see all charges forever dropped. Germany's Die Welt newspaper calls it a "second-class acquittal", but it should be enough to satisfy F1 owner CVC's Donald Mackenzie, and F1 stakeholders like Daimler who operate under strict corporate compliance rules.
It is expected that the court will accept the settlement when proceedings resume on Tuesday. "I do not know how it will end," Ecclestone told Bild newspaper. "I will be there in court (on Tuesday) anyway." The 83-year-old's lawyer Sven Thomas is more confident. "It seems that we will be successful in the settlement," he told F1 business journalist Christian Sylt and the Independent newspaper.
Thomas said it will be a settlement "without any conviction, the presumption of innocence is still valid. That was a condition under which I negotiated." He added that the "settlement puts an end to the trial for all times. No one can try with this case once again. It is binding, like a sentence which can't be appealed." He also suggested the $100 million could be used by the state of Bavaria to build a formula one track. "I will propose this -- that they should build a nice circuit," he added.
The possibility of financially settling a criminal case is unique within German law, and obviously controversial even within the country. Former federal justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger described the idea of Ecclestone buying his acquittal as "impudent", leaving "a bad aftertaste".
Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, having broken the news of the settlement, said it is a "perverse" outcome that "truth and justice are items that can be traded". Ecclestone, however, argues that it was the prosecutor's idea, not his. He told Sylt that the prosecutors said "'Do we want to have a chat about it?' That is what started it," Ecclestone claims. "We didn't ask them, they asked us." (GMM)