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Ecclestone rejects German firm's allegation of corrupt F1 sale

Formula One commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone walks in the paddock before the Turkish F1 Grand Prix at the Istanbul Park circuit in Istan
Formula One commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone walks in the paddock before the Turkish F1 Grand Prix at the Istanbul Park circuit in Istan

By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) - A firm's claim for more than $100 million in damages from Bernie Ecclestone is far-fetched and relies on confessions from a jailed banker who is a "fantasist", a lawyer for the Formula One boss argued on Wednesday.

German media firm Constantin Medien alleges that Ecclestone and three other defendants deliberately undervalued Formula One when German bank BayernLB sold its 47 percent stake in the sport to CVC Capital Partners for $830 million in 2005.

Constantin had an interest in the sale and says it lost out as a result of the undervaluation, which it says was a "corrupt bargain" instigated by Ecclestone because he knew CVC would keep him in place as Formula One chief.

Putting forward Ecclestone's version of events on the second day of a civil case at the High Court in London, lawyer Robert Miles said there was no merit in Constantin's claim.

"This is a case that simply does not add up," he said, arguing that Ecclestone would have had no interest in undervaluing Formula One when his family's Bambino Holdings was selling its own 25 percent stake at the same price.

Ecclestone, 83, is to give evidence in person next week.

The case is one of a barrage of legal problems that threaten to end his long reign over Formula One. A German court is to decide next year whether he should be tried for bribery there.

He rejects Constantin's allegation BayernLB was persuaded to sell to CVC at that price because he promised multi-million-dollar bribes to the executive in charge, Gerhard Gribkowsky.

"The bank was absolutely delighted at the offer. The reason it sold to CVC was because it considered it was a very good offer," Miles said.

He said CVC's offer was attractive to BayernLB at a time when the future value of Formula One was in doubt because of a threat by racing car manufacturers to set up a rival series.

JAILED BANKER

Gribkowsky, who received $44 million from Ecclestone after the sale, is serving 8-1/2 years in jail for corruption in Germany. Ecclestone accepts he made the payments but says he was blackmailed by Gribkowsky who was threatening to make claims about him to the British tax authorities.

"These payments were made because Dr Gribkowsky was 'shaking down' - in effect blackmailing - Mr Ecclestone in respect of his tax arrangements," Miles wrote in written submissions to the court, also provided to journalists.

"The suggestion that this was all done to entrench his (Ecclestone's) position simply does not bear scrutiny," Miles said, adding that Ecclestone was in "the strongest position" he had ever enjoyed within Formula One at the time of these events.

"There is an array of evidence that demonstrates that Dr Gribkowsky was, to put it mildly, something of a fantasist," Miles wrote in his written submissions.

Miles cited "ludicrous" suggestions made by Gribkowsky that Ecclestone had tried to bribe him with sums of $10 million to $20 million at the French or Australian Grand Prix in 2004.

Miles said Gribkowsky had repeatedly changed his story, at one point mentioning a suitcase containing $20 million in cash but later dropping that particular detail.

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Lorraine Turner and Andrew Roche)

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