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Formula One boss Ecclestone wins UK fight with German group
AFP Formula One boss Ecclestone wins UK fight with German group

London (AFP) - A High Court judge in Britain rejected an £85 million claim against Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone from a German media company on Thursday.

The judge said there had been a "corrupt" deal to facilitate the sale of Formula One's commercial rights to a preferred buyer, but threw out the damages claim from Constantin Medien, worth $140 million or 103 million euros.

Despite ruling in Ecclestone's favour, Justice Guy Newey also said he found it "impossible" to regard the 83-year-old as a "reliable or truthful witness".

Ecclestone faces a bribery trial in Germany in April related to the case.

In evidence in London last year, he was accused of entering into a "corrupt agreement" with a German banker, Gerhard Gribkowsky, to facilitate the sale of the Formula One Group.

Ecclestone is the chief executive of Formula One, and has run the sport for almost 40 years.

He is the long-time commercial rights holder of Formula One, but sold off a majority of the ownership in the 1990s.

Constantin Medien was involved in the sale in 2006 of a stake belonging to the German bank Bayern LB.

The stake was bought by private equity group CVC Capital Partners, but Constantin claimed it lost out in the deal and sought damages.

Ecclestone said in evidence that Constantin's claim "lacks any merit" and denied any conspiracy.

Lawyers for the media group told the court that payments totalling about £27 million were made to Gribkowsky at the instigation of Ecclestone.

They alleged that Ecclestone and Gribkowsky made a "corrupt" arrangement in 2005.

But Ecclestone gave a different version of events, telling the judge that he paid Gribkowsky £10 million because the banker insinuated that he would create difficulties with tax authorities.

Giving his deferred judgement on Thursday, Justice Newey said the payments made were a "bribe", but he said Constantin's claim still failed.

"No loss to Constantin has been shown to have been caused by the corrupt arrangement with Dr Gribkowsky," the judge added.

"That fact is fatal to the claim."

Ecclestone is due to go on trial in late April in Munich after being accused of bribery in a case that also centres around claims relating to Gribkowsky.

- 'I told the truth' -

Ecclestone has been under investigation by German authorities on suspicion of bribery and incitement of fraud since Gribkowsky was convicted of taking an illegal payment when the Formula One rights were sold in the 2006 deal.

After the ruling, Ecclestone said: "Questions were asked, I answered them and I told the truth.

"This case was about the value of some shares. It was nothing to do with whether I did or didn't tell the truth, or whether I was unreliable or not."

He said he had "no idea" whether the British judge's comments would affect any trial in Germany.

And he added: "The judge in England didn't have all of the central witnesses, and I wasn't there to defend whether I'm a liar or unreliable."

Ecclestone has reduced his role in the Formula One Group's operations pending the outcome of the trial in Germany, although says he intends to continue to run the sport on "a day-to-day basis".