Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has gone on trial in Germany, denying bribery charges that threaten to land the British billionaire in jail.
Ecclestone, 83, is accused of paying a German banker tens of millions of dollars to ensure his continued grip on the motor sports empire he had built up over four decades.
The mop-topped, diminutive F1 magnate entered the packed Munich courtroom in his trademark black suit and white shirt, saying “I’m confident, the sun is shining”.
With a translator by his side, he followed as the prosecution made its case, alleging serious corruption charges that carry a maximum jail term of 10 years.
The case centres on a $US44 million ($A48 million) payment Ecclestone made eight years ago to a German banker, Gerhard Gribkowsky, who has since been jailed.
The question is whether the money was a bribe or – as the defence claims – hush money after a blackmail attempt.
Ecclestone’s lawyer Sven Thomas dismissed the allegations as “inaccurate, misleading and unsubstantiated” and said “the alleged bribery did not take place”.
The cash changed hands at a time when a German corporate bankruptcy had left several banks in charge of major stakes of the Formula One enterprise.
Gribkowsky was then risk manager of one of the banks, Germany’s BayernLB.
Prosecutors charge that the money was a bribe meant to ensure that BayernLB sold its shares to Ecclestone’s preferred bidder, CVC Capital Partners of Britain, now the sport’s majority shareholder.
They charge that Ecclestone, long the “virtually uncontested leader of Formula One”, saw the banks’ involvement as a “nuisance” and wanted a takeover by CVC, which had made clear it would keep him on as CEO.