A German court on Tuesday dropped the bribery case against Bernie Ecclestone after the Formula One chief agreed to make a $100-million payment, ending a trial that lasted more than three months.
The Munich state court announced its decision to drop proceedings against the 83-year-old Ecclestone hours after prosecutors agreed to the move. Ecclestone is now free to concentrate on running the global racing series.
"There was no conclusion on guilt or innocence of the defendant," court spokeswoman Andrea Titz said. "He is leaving this courtroom a free man."
The charges involved a $44-million payment to German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky, who is serving an 8 1/2-year sentence for taking the money. Gribkowsky was convicted of corruption, tax evasion and breach of trust in a trial led by the same judge who was hearing Ecclestone's case, Peter Noll.
Ecclestone denied wrongdoing and contends that Gribkowsky, who was in charge of selling German bank BayernLB's 47 per cent stake in F1 in 2005, blackmailed him.
After hearing the evidence so far, "the court did not consider a conviction overwhelmingly likely from the present point of view," Titz said.
The court also noted that Ecclestone faced the charges "despite his advanced age, despite his poor health" and despite the fact that the lengthy, high-profile proceedings in a foreign language were "a significant strain for him," she said.
German law allows for prosecutors to agree to drop a case in exchange for conditions such as a fine or community work, so long as "the gravity of guilt" does not stand in the way.
Such deals, which have to be approved by the court hearing the case, are common in Germany though they rarely involve anything close to the amount of money Ecclestone will pay. Fines take account of the assets of the defendant; according to Forbes magazine, Ecclestone and his family are worth $4.2-billion.
Ecclestone's defence team called last week for the proceedings to be dropped, citing a lack of evidence that the Englishman was criminally responsible and asserting that the proceedings were a strain for their client. He has been running F1 while attending twice-weekly court sessions in Munich.
Ecclestone's lawyers agreed on a $100-million payment in talks with prosecutors over recent days.
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