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Formula One boss Ecclestone denies bribery at German trial

FORMULA One boss Bernie Ecclestone has rejected accusations of bribery as he went on trial in a case that could threaten his grip on the sport.

He told a Munich court he was blackmailed by a German banker who received a disputed $44 million (£26m) payment.

Mr Ecclestone said at the beginning of a four-hour personal statement read out in German by his lawyers that he was "grateful" to be able to give his side of the story - though he told judges he would answer questions from the Munich state court through his lawyers.

The 83-year-old is charged with bribery and incitement to breach of trust, and could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

The charges involve a $44m payment to banker Gerhard Gribkowsky, who is serving eight-and-a-half years for taking the money. Prosecutors allege the payment was meant to ­facilitate the sale of Munich-based bank Bayern LB's stake in Formula One to a buyer of Mr Ecclestone's liking. Gribkowsky was in charge of selling that 47% stake in F1 in 2005.

Mr Ecclestone gave evidence at Gribkowsky's trial in 2011 and Gribkowsky is expected to be the main witness during Mr Ecclestone's trial.

Gribkowsky was found guilty of corruption, tax evasion and breach of trust in a trial led by the same judge who is hearing Mr Ecclestone's case, Peter Noll.

In yesterday's statement, Mr Ecclestone reiterated evidence he gave at Gribkowsky's trial that he gave the banker the money because he was "blackmailed" and worried Gribkowsky would falsely accuse of him of being in charge of a trust fund set up for his former wife and their children -possibly incurring a huge British tax bill.

He said he believed his life's work would be in danger if Gribkowsky went to the British tax authorities, he said, adding that he would not have been able to pay the resulting bill.

Mr Ecclestone said he turned over his entire stake in Formula One to his then-wife, Slavica, and their two daughters in 1997 following a health scare.

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