Formula One rights

German banker trial over F1 rights starts in Munich

A former German banker, charged with selling Formula One rights in return for a bribe with the involvement of the sport's supremo Bernie Ecclestone, told a Munich court on Monday his decision had saved tax payers million of euros.

"The fact is that our client defused a bomb," said lawyer Rainer Buessow on the first day of the trial of former BayernLB banker Gerhard Gribkowsky, who is charged with bribery, embezzlement and tax evasion over the sale of the Formula One rights.

He is charged with his deal costing the bank 66m euros ($92m) and him pocketing about 32m euros as part of a bribe but his lawyer argued his efficient actions had saved hundreds of millions of tax payer money.

The trial of the former executive follows his arrest in January and is expected to last several months. He has been in custody since earlier this year.

Ecclestone, the 80-year-old Briton who runs the sport, is expected to be the key witness in the trial at a later date. He has denied any involvement and has said he did not bribe the banker.

BayernLB had a stake in Formula One up to 2006 along with JP Morgan, Lehman Brothers and Ecclestone's family trust.

The banks had acquired a 75% stake in F1 holding company SLEC after the collapse of Germany's Kirch media group, which had borrowed some $1.6bn from them. BayernLB was Kirch's biggest creditor.

SLEC was sold to the current Formula One rights holders, private equity firm CVC, in 2006 with Ecclestone remaining hands-on in running the business. ($1 = 0.720 Euros)

(Published by Reuters - October 24, 2011)

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