Bernie Ecclestone has relinquished his role as a director of the F1 Group and thus left the board of the organization. He will continue to have his day-to-day responsibilities within Formula One, but he will be subject to closer monitoring than previously.
The decision follows the confirmation that Ecclestone will stand trial on bribery charges in Germany, which led to a meeting of the board of Delta Topco, the holding company of the F1 Group.
The German charges relate to the now-infamous $44 million payment Ecclestone made to former banker Gerhard Gribkowksy, who is currently serving an 8 ½-year jail sentence. Gribkowsky, who was chief risk officer at BayernLB, was found guilty of tax evasion and bribery.
Ecclestone's view has always been that he was a victim of a “shakedown” and made the payment to stop Gribkowsky triggering a time-consuming U.K. tax investigation.
A statement from the prosecutor said that “under current planning, the main trial should start in late April,” but few further details have emerged.
Meanwhile, in a statement, Ecclestone's German legal team said: “The decision to go to trial is normal and in no way is it a finding in the issue at hand. This is something that is up to the trial itself. The alleged bribery never took place. The accusations that are based on Gribkowsky's testimony are incorrect and, based on the facts, offer no coherent picture.”
Despite Ecclestone's confidence, he is clearly under pressure. A later statement from the F1 Group confirmed that his wings have been clipped: “Mr. Ecclestone has reassured the board that he is innocent of the charges and intends to vigorously defend the case, which will commence in April 2014. After discussion with the board, Mr. Ecclestone has proposed and the board agreed that until the case has been concluded, he will step down as a director with immediate effect, thereby relinquishing his board duties and responsibilities until the case has been resolved. The board believes that it is the best interests of both the F1 business and the sport that Mr. Ecclestone should continue to run the business on a day-to-day basis, but subject to increased monitoring and control by the board. Mr. Ecclestone has agreed to these arrangements. The approval and signing of significant contracts and other material business arrangements shall now be the responsibility of the chairman, Mr. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, and the deputy chairman, Mr. Donald Mackenzie.”
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