A British Billionaire Paid $100 Million To The Government So They’d Drop Bribery Charges

He used the bribery to destroy the bribery.
A British Billionaire Paid $100 Million To The Government So They’d Drop Bribery Charges

Bernie Ecclestone ran the Formula One racing group for 40 years, right up until 2017. He started his life by doing a little racing himself, tried other business ventures and became rich, returned to racing as an owner, then took over the Formula One Group and became super rich. 

Sometime around 2005, Ecclestone sent $44 million to Gerhard Gribkowsky, the chief risk officer of a German bank. His reason for doing that is a matter of dispute. Ecclestone later claimed that Gribkowsky was blackmailing him, threatening to go public about money Ecclestone’s wife was hiding from tax authorities. If that’s true, Ecclestone committed no crime but was actually the victim of a crime.

But Gribkowsky’s bank happened to own a share of the Formula One Group, and under his guidance, they sold this share, in a deal that helped Ecclestone retain power. Ecclestone paid Gribkowsky to get him to advise the bank that way, said prosecutors, which meant the man was guilty of bribery. 

We’ll never get a verdict on which of those two explanations is correct. Because though Germany charged Ecclestone with bribery, and were all set to prosecute him in 2014, he got them to drop the bribery investigation, by paying the government $100 million.

You might have heard it said that when a punishment’s just a fine, crime’s legal for the rich. However, this $100 million payment was not a fine—fines are in fact intended as a punishment for the guilty. Instead, Ecclestone made use of a system they have in Germany where (for some less severe crimes) you can pay the government to dismiss your charges. They do not declare you guilty, and they also don’t declare you not guilty. The charge just goes away. 

Ecclestone also had a small legal issue this past year. He was flying privately from Brazil with a pistol in his luggage, which is illegal, so they arrested him. Bernie Ecclestone is currently 92 years old. 

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