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F1 boss calm over judge's remarks
Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone is hopeful that highly critical comments from a leading High Court judge do not impact on his bribery trial later this year.
An £85million damages claim against Ecclestone and three other defendants sought by German media company Constantin Medien was rejected at the High Court on Thursday.
Ecclestone was accused of entering into a "corrupt agreement" with a banker to facilitate the sale of the Formula 1 Group to a buyer chosen by him.
Constantin Medien said it lost out as a result of the deal and wanted tens of millions of pounds in compensation, but High Court judge Mr Justice Newey ruled that no loss had been shown to have been caused to Constantin as a consequence of the payments.
However, the judge was highly critical of Ecclestone and described the payments made by the F1 boss to German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky as a "bribe". Ecclestone faces trial in Munich in April, charged with bribery over these same payments.
Mr Justice Newey also said it was "impossible" to regard Ecclestone as a "reliable or truthful witness".
Asked by Press Association Sport what impact the judge's remarks might have on the subsequent case in Germany, Ecclestone said: "I've no idea.
"I suppose the judge in Munich will base his findings on what he thinks, not on what somebody else thinks.
"He might find, when I'm in court there, that he doesn't agree with what the English judge has said.
"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.
"I was there to simply state whether the shares were cheap or not."
Ecclestone faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty in the Munich court.
Lawyers for Constantin Medien said payments totalling about £27million were made to Gribkowsky - who was a ''senior ranking official'' at a German bank - at the instigation of Ecclestone.
At the time of the sale to current major shareholders CVC Capital Partners, Gribkowsky worked for state-owned Bavarian bank Bayern LB as chief risk officer.
As a former shareholder, Constantin Medien claimed the shares were undervalued when bought by CVC, it felt as a result of Ecclestone's dealings with Gribkowsky.
Prosecutors in Gribkowsky's trial said he sold the stake without updating its valuation in return for bribes disguised as consulting contracts.
Ecclestone claims he was "shaken down" by Gribkowsky and paid money to avoid financial dealings being exposed to the Inland Revenue with regard to an offshore family trust known as Bambino Holdings.
Gribkowsky is currently serving an eight-and-a-half-year jail term for tax evasion, breach of fiduciary duties and being in receipt of corrupt payments.
Responding to Mr Justice Newey's statement that he was not a reliable or truthful witness, the F1 boss added: "Whether I told the truth or not....questions were asked, I answered them and I told the truth.
"This was an opinion that had nothing to do with the case. 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."
Constantin Medien has confirmed its intention to appeal against Thursday's verdict.
"The judge ruled against Constantin essentially on technical grounds (including extremely complicated questions of German law which is the governing law in the case) and Constantin will be appealing those findings," said Keith Oliver, head of commercial fraud litigation at Peters and Peters Solicitors.
Ecclestone, however, is unconcerned as he said: "If they want to appeal, they can obviously.
"If there is an appeal we will be able to bring in all the people we should have brought in, but who we didn't think were needed, and we will be able to defend it in a much better way then we did before.
"So I hope they do appeal."
Overall, Ecclestone declared himself satisfied with the verdict, adding: "Yeah, I am, sure.
"I'm no better off just because I've won the case, but then I'm not worse off either. I just hope I get all the costs paid!"
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner welcomed the verdict.
He told BBC Radio Five Live: "It's good news for F1 and great news for Bernie. The business needs him at the moment as it's tough times with such a big regulation change. Formula One more than ever needs Bernie Ecclestone."
A statement issued on behalf of Ecclestone further underlined his view of Mr Justice Newey's remarks.
The statement read: "As this was a civil claim, the judge was only required to deal with the claim on the balance of probabilities.
"This is a much lower standard of proof than would apply in a criminal case.
"The judge has expressed his opinion that on the balance of probabilities there was an unlawful agreement made with Dr Gribkowsky and that payments that Mr Ecclestone made for Dr Gribkowsky's benefit were a bribe, but this view is not underpinned by reliable evidence.
"The source of these allegations is Dr Gribkowsky himself, who did not give evidence in this case.
"The judge expressly recognised there was clearly considerable force in the point that there had been no opportunity for Mr Ecclestone's (and the other defendants') legal team to cross-examine important witnesses, including Dr Gribkowsky.
"As such, the judge's opinion is expressed in the light of hearing only partial evidence that has not been properly tested."
The statement concluded that Ecclestone "is confident that he will be acquitted" come the conclusion of the bribery trial.