Executive Privilege

In Formula One Corruption Case, Justice Loses As Ecclestone Buys a Legal Escape

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The outcome of Mr. Ecclestone’s bribary trial questions justice. The impression that wealthy poeple can buy their way out of jail leaves a sour after taste.

  • Facts


    • Mr. Eccelstone walks free after paying €75 million ($100 million) fine.
    • Gerhard Gribkowsky, the ex-banker who accepted a bribe of €44 million ($59 million), is sentenced to eight and a half years.
    • Same judge rules two ways.
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Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone arrives in the court in Munich June 25, 2014. Source Reuters
Source: AFP Foto


Mr. Ecclestone has spent his life making deals. His latest – and one of his best – took place in a German court room last Tuesday.

The executive had been accused of bribery but the charges were dropped when he agreed to pay a fine of €75 million ($100 million). That was the price for freedom and a clear name.

Never before has someone tried before a German court ever paid such a high fine. But the money doesn’t mean much to the multi-billionaire Ecclestone, whose expenses include €33 million ($44 million) for the weddings of his two daughters or €140 million ($187 million) for their villas.

Mr. Ecclestone is unlikely to notice the missing millions. But Germany is suffering from the way the dispute was settled. In court, money was not the only thing being bargained – the deal turned justice into a commodity that can be bought and sold. And worse yet, a one-off chance was missed. The court case could have been an opportunity to bring the all-powerful motorsport boss to book. It could have led him out of his parallel world and into the real world ruled by law.

The world of sports is not a separate universe, although it may seem like one to powerful officials who act with impunity, from Ecclestone to Sepp Blatter, president of the world football (or soccer) association Fifa, or the members of the International Olympic Committee.

These officials are indifferent to responsibility, they face no competition and their rule goes unchallenged. They reign over opaque structures and host events wherever they choose and allocate billions as they wish.

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