A German court has ruled that Formula One tycoon Bernie Ecclestone can make a controversial $US100 million ($A108 million) payment to end his trial on bribery charges.
In a move that will likely see him stay at the helm of the lucrative sport, the 83-year-old Briton struck an accord with prosecutors on the record payment which then got the Munich tribunal’s blessing.
“The proceedings will be temporarily suspended with the agreement of the prosecution and the accused,” pending payment within one week, presiding judge Peter Noll said on Tuesday.
The $US100-million accord is believed to be the largest of its kind in German history.
Ecclestone, a diminutive businessman who has kept firm control over F1, has a fortune estimated at $US4.2 billion, according to Forbes magazine, making him one of the richest 400 people in the world.
Noll said $US99 million of Ecclestone’s payment would go to the Bavarian state coffers while $US1 million would be donated to a child hospice foundation.
Ecclestone went on trial in the southern city of Munich in April on charges of paying a $US44-million bribe to a Bavarian state bank executive for help in maintaining his four-decade grip on Formula One.
A settlement is allowed in German criminal cases if the prosecution, the aggrieved parties and the court agree, but the Ecclestone deal has stoked fierce criticism.
The judges based their decision on a determination that a conviction was “not particularly likely” given the evidence presented.
The court added in a statement that Ecclestone’s “advanced age, health condition, the significant burden of taking part in hearings in a foreign country and the subsequent language barrier as well as the public attention directed at him” were also decisive factors.
Under the terms of the agreement, Ecclestone will not have a criminal record and should be able to retain his control of the multi-billion-dollar Formula One empire.
The mop-topped magnate arrived at the courthouse on Tuesday in a limousine, looking relaxed and accompanied by his much younger Brazilian wife, Fabiana Flosi.
After the judges announced their ruling, Ecclestone approached the bench to shake Noll’s hand and then thanked chief prosecutor Christian Weiss.
His lawyers hit out at accusations that he had orchestrated a “buying out” of German justice.
“This abandonment of the proceedings indicates that (based) on an unbiased, objective and independent assessment of the main proceedings after more than 100 hours of evidence” before the court, they said in a statement, “a conviction of Mr Ecclestone could not be expected with any likelihood”.
The proceedings were scheduled to last at least until October.
News of the accord drew angry condemnation of a legal system some said gave special dispensation to the rich and famous.
The Formula One boss denied any wrongdoing but could have faced a jail term of up to 10 years if found guilty.