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Bernie sports a smile

London: Bernie Ecclestone met the man who could bring down his Formula One empire with a smile in court on Friday, as his trial for bribery heard from its key witness.

Gerhard Gribkowsky, the German banker who Ecclestone allegedly paid a $44million (26million) bribe in order to smooth the sale of F1 to his preferred buyer eight years ago, told the court in Munich that the 83-year-old had promised to “take care of him”.

Gribkowsky, who was jailed for eight-and-a-half years in 2012 over the payments by the same judge presiding over the current case, also described the sport as one in which everyone was out for themselves.

The former chief risk officer of BayernLB detailed his turbulent relationship with F1’s chief executive as far back as 2002; the central issue in the case.

Prosecutors in Munich claim that Ecclestone favoured CVC Capital Partners, now the majority shareholder, because they were committed to retain him as chief executive. While Ecclestone admits making the payments to Gribkowsky, he claims this was as a result of being “shaken down” by the banker, who he said was threatening to make false claims about his tax affairs.

On day release from prison, Gribkowsky took the witness stand and smiled at Ecclestone, who returned the smile. As the hearing began in front of Judge Peter Noll, Gribkowsky explained how he had clashed with Ecclestone ever since BayernLB acquired a 47 per cent stake in Formula One after the collapse of the Kirch media group in 2002.