Swiss prosecutors have begun a criminal investigation into the Formula One bribery scandal, potentially opening another front in the legal battles being fought by F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone.
Prosecutors in Geneva will examine the circumstances of a $44m payment to German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky, who worked on the motorsport’s sale to private equity group CVC in 2006. Some former F1 stakeholders claim that the deal undervalued the company.
The money was paid to Mr Gribkowsky by Mr Ecclestone, the longstanding F1 chief executive and Bambino, the Swiss-based Ecclestone family trust. The investigation comes after Mr Ecclestone was served with an indictment this year from German prosecutors, who are investigating allegations of bribery.
Any new investigation of the sale may complicate CVC’s efforts to float F1 this year. It previously attempted to float F1 – one of the most profitable deals in the private equity group’s history – in 2012 but pulled the initial public offering because of market turmoil.
The investigation by Swiss prosecutors was triggered by the receipt of a third-party complaint. It will attempt to establish the facts of the case, whether it falls under Swiss jurisdiction and whether the payment was criminal under Swiss law.
No charges have been laid. Mr Ecclestone and Bambino did not respond to emails asking for comment.
The developments come a year after Mr Gribkowsky was jailed for eight and a half years. The judge in the case said Mr Ecclestone was the “driving force” when the German banker accepted corrupt payments related to the sale of F1.
Mr Ecclestone said he was “shaken down” and that he was being blackmailed by the German banker, who had threatened to reveal Mr Ecclestone’s tax affairs.
A judge is expected to announce in the new year whether Mr Ecclestone will be brought to trial in Germany.
Mr Ecclestone also faces another day in court in London this week when former F1 stakeholder Constantin Medien brings its case against the 83-year-old billionaire, claiming the motorsport was undervalued when it was sold to CVC.
The case will begin on Tuesday and is expected to last about six weeks.