Sunday, 30 December 2012 14:30
After heading Formula One Management (FOM) for nigh on 40 years, Bernie Ecclestone's reign as Formula One’s chief executive may come to an end if German prosecutors proceed with the corruption and bribery case involving the sale of the state owned German BayernLB bank's 839 million dollar stake in the premier motor racing championship to private equity firm CVC in 2006.
Since Gerhard Gribkowsky’s arrest in January of 2011, speculation has mounted that Ecclestone would face corruption charges, however, he is still being investigated by the Germans and is yet to be charged.
Despite initially denying all knowledge of the payment, Ecclestone admitted in the Gribkowsky hearing to authorising a very big transfer of funds after the banker threatened he would give the British HM Revenue & Customs alleged details of the Formula One supremo's tax affairs that he was secretly in charge of Bambino, an offshore family trust controlled by his ex-wife Slavika.
Ecclestone explained the transfer was because he thought Gribkowsky could do 'something a little bit vindictive' and denies the 44 million dollar payment was a bribe insisting his control of Bambino was a false allegation: "I don't control the trust, but if the Revenue had investigated, the burden of proof would have been on me to prove I wasn't," which could nonetheless have subsequently lead to a tax investigation and a colossal bill.
Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo, who recently attacked Ecclestone for being too old to remain in charge of the sport, is of the view that the 82 year old should quit as head of Formula One if German prosecutors charge him with corruption.
"I hope for Bernie and Formula 1 that nothing will happen," Montezemolo told the Independent, referring to the possibility Ecclestone will be formerly charged.
"If Bernie is accused under process, I think he will be the first to give a step back in the interests of Formula One. This could be bad for the sport."
As for Ecclestone's long reign over the sport, he continued: "The era of the one man show cannot continue, we are slowly approaching the end of a period characterised by the style of one man who has done significant things."
Auto Motor und Sport correspondent Michael Schmidt speculated Montezemolo could fill the post vacated by Ecclestone. Whether or not the 65 year old Italian wants the Briton's job, he admits to thinking the Ecclestone era should be over.
Early in 2012 it was reported CVC had requested Egon Zehnder, as part of the plans for the Formula One flotation on the Singapore stock exchange, to draft a short-list of potential Ecclestone replacements.
"CVC will probably be forced to get rid of me if the Germans come after me. It’s pretty obvious, if I’m locked up," said Ecclestone, however he insists this doesn’t mean that CVC Capital Partners have intentions of getting rid of him.
Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph Ecclestone added: “They said they had hired a head-hunter to find somebody in the event that I was not going to be there, if I was going to die or something. It is the normal thing they do to keep people happy.”