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Rediff.com  » Sports » Sports Shorts: F1 boss Ecclestone denies bribery at German trial

Sports Shorts: F1 boss Ecclestone denies bribery at German trial

Last updated on: April 24, 2014 21:09 IST

Sports Shorts: F1 boss Ecclestone denies bribery at German trial

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Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone denied bribery allegations on Thursday when he went on trial in Germany in a case that threatens to break the Briton's decades-long dominance of the motor sport.

Prosecutors have charged Ecclestone, 83, with bribing banker Gerhard Gribkowsky to smooth the sale eight years ago of a stake in Formula One to private equity firm CVC. They say that Ecclestone favoured CVC because it was committed to keeping him on as chief executive.

"I'm confident, the sun is shining," a dark-suited Ecclestone told camera crews jostling to film his entry into the Munich courtroom.

The former used-car salesman, who became a billionaire by building motor racing into a global money spinner over the past four decades, is fighting to save his job and his reputation. He faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted.

As the trial began, his lawyers issued a brief statement, confirming that he denied the accusations and would fight to clear his name.

"The alleged bribery never happened. The prosecution's claims are based on statements by Dr. Gribkowsky, which are wrong, misleading and not conclusive."

The prosecution, in a 24-page statement, told the packed courtroom that Ecclestone channelled $44 million (26 million pounds) to former BayernLB banker Gribkowsky for having helped to safeguard his position as head of Formula One.

CVC remains the largest shareholder in the business, which generates annual revenues of over $1.5 billion from its series of Grand Prix races around the world. CVC co-chairman Donald Mackenzie has said he would fire Ecclestone if he was found guilty of wrongdoing.

Ecclestone, in a dark suit, listened through an interpreter as his lawyer read a lengthy statement in German to the court, setting out his own version of events surrounding the 2005-6 sale of Formula One.

The Ecclestone statement went back to his childhood during World War Two and recalled German bomber raids on the town of Dartford, close to London, before taking the court through his business career and the CVC deal.

CVC paid about $830 million for a 47-percent Formula One stake that BayernLB had held from 2002-6 when banks took control of the business following the collapse of the Kirch media empire.

Gribkowsky, who is expected to give evidence in this trial, was jailed for more than eight years in Munich in 2012 for tax evasion and corruption in relation to payments from Ecclestone.

Ecclestone has said he paid Gribkowsky $10 million but says this was designed to silence him because the German banker was threatening to make false claims about his tax affairs.

Ecclestone denies the payments were linked to the CVC deal.

The case is expected to run until September.

Flanked by his lawyers and with an interpreter at his side, Ecclestone had earlier confirmed the pronunciation of his name and his date of birth to judge Peter Noll.

Ecclestone, who married for a third time in 2012 to a Brazilian woman more than 40 years his junior, defused some of the early tension when asked to clarify confusion over his marital status.

When asked if he was married or divorced, he at first replied "both." "I like to remember the divorce part," he said in English.

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Image: Bernie Ecclestone (centre), the 83-year-old controlling business magnate in Formula One racing, and his lawyers Sven Thomas, Andreas Weitzell and Norbert Scharf arrive for the first day of his trial for bribery on Thursday
Photographs: Joerg Koch/Getty Images

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Sindhu, Gurusaidutt in Asian badminton quarter-finals

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Teen sensation P V Sindhu and rising shuttler R M V Gurusaidutt entered the quarter-finals of the Asian Badminton Championships after hard-fought victories in Gimcheon, Korea, on Thursday.

World No 10 Sindhu, who was beaten by the Japanese thrice previously, including in last year's edition of the Asian championships, avenged her losses with a 14-21, 21-13, 21-18 victory in the women’s singles.

The 18-year-old will next take on Thailand's Busanan Ongbumrungpan, ranked 18th, who upset third seeded Korean Bae Yeon Ju 22-24 21-19 21-15 in another women’s singles match.

Sindhu, who won the Malaysian and Macau Open besides a World Championship bronze last year, holds a 2-0 win record against Busanan. The Indian had last beaten the Thai girl at the All England Championships in 2013.

In the men's singles, Gurusaidutt, ranked 38, bounced back after losing the opening game to beat Chinese Taipei's Wang Tzu Wei 17-21, 21-13, 21-19.

He will meet Chinese qualifier Liu Kai on Friday.

Indian ace Parupalli Kashyap, however, went down fighting to Hsu Jen Hao of Chinese Taipei 25-23, 21-17 in another men’s match.

In the women's doubles competition, the Commonwealth Games’ gold medallist pair of Ashwini Ponnappa and Jwala Gutta prevailed over the third seeded Thailand combo of Aroonkesorn Duanganong and Voravichitchaikul Kunchala 21-11, 21-18.

The 2011 World Championships bronze medallists will next take on Malaysia's Anscelly Amelia Alicia and Soong Fie Cho.

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Image: P V Sindhu


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Somdev-Pavic exit Barcelona Open

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Somdev Devvarman and his Croatian partner Ante Pavic bowed out of the Barcelona Open, following defeat in the quarter-finals on Thursday.

In a battle between the two lucky-losers, Somdev-Pavic lost 6-4, 3-6, 5-10 to Jesse Huta Galung and Stephanie Robert.

Somdev had lost in the first round of the singles event earlier.

India's challenge in the tournament, however, is still alive in the

competition as Davis Cupper Rohan Bopanna reached the quarter-finals with Pakistani partner Aisam-ul-haq Qureshi.

They are up against the top-seeded pair of Nenad Zimonjic and Daniel Nestor.

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Image: Somdev Devvarman
Photographs: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

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'Grandfather' Phelps plays down Rio return

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Michael Phelps is playing down expectations about his return to competitive swimming, but the most decorated Olympian of all-time, with a mind-boggling 18 gold medals, is finding it tough to sell himself as an underdog.

On Wednesday, the 28-year-old fronted a packed media conference on the eve of his eagerly-awaited comeback at a US Swimming Grand Prix meet in Mesa, Arizona.

He arrived unshaven, a little plumper than normal and with no swimsuit sponsor, and with the news that he had already pulled out of Thursday’s 100 metres freestyle heats to concentrate on the 100m butterfly and Friday’s 50m freestyle.

“I haven’t signed any contracts, no one’s making me do this. I’m doing this because I want to,” he explained.

“I’m loving just being back in the water and in a group. I’m even more relaxed than I ever was before. I’m smiling a lot, I’m happier, I’m joking a lot.

“I really am the grandfather of your group now. I’m the old man.”

But for a man who had spent his life demolishing records and setting the gold standard for Olympic success, it is a routine few are buying.

Phelps already knew that after winning eight gold medals in Beijing the only forward for him was down, so he began the process in London, which he vowed would be his swansong.

He cut back to seven events, winning four golds, and plans to trim that back even further in the future, though neither he nor his long-time coach Bob Bowman would elaborate on which events he would stick with.

"I always have goals and things that I want to achieve and I have things that I want to achieve now," he said. "Bob and I can do anything that we put our minds to.

"That's what we've done in the past so I'm looking forward to wherever this road takes me and I guess the journey will start tomorrow."

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Image: Michael Phelps
Photographs: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

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'I'm doing this because I want to come back and I enjoy being in the pool'

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While Phelps evaded questions about his chances of winning more gold in Rio, he did break away from his mantra that he is just doing it all for fun.

Rio is still more than two years ago but the timing of his return to competition this week is the first real clue that he has his heart set on adding to his golden stockpile in Brazil.

Even below his best, Phelps would be a strong contender to add to his tally just on the strength of the U.S. relay teams. He has swum in each of the three relay events at the past three Olympics, collecting seven golds from the team races.

The key lead-up event before Rio is next year’s world championships in Russia, where Phelps would be able to measure his progress against his main rivals for Rio and decide his Olympic programme.

But the selection process to make the U.S. team for the world championships is more complicated than usual and will start at this year’s national titles in August, which will double as the trials for the Pan Pacific championships in Australia.

The performances of swimmers at that meet will then largely determine who gets picked for the world championships.

And despite everything he has achieved, Phelps has yet to qualify for the U.S. nationals because he has not swum in the official qualifying period, which commenced after he retired.

“I obviously knew that if I really wanted to compete at a really high level then I have to do it this summer,” he said.

Rumours of a comeback began to gather steam last year when Phelps re-registered with the United States Anti-Doping Agency, a mandatory requirement before he could race again.

He began training under Bowman at their base in North Baltimore, initially just to get back into shape after piling on almost 40 pounds (18 kilograms), then more seriously in preparation to race again.

“My highest point was probably 225 (pounds). I raced at 187 in London, so the weight came on pretty quick,” Phelps said.

“Last week I was about 194. I’ve lost a lot of weight and get in decent shape. We’ve been able to get some good work done in the pool.”

The history of sport is full of failed comebacks but Phelps, who will be 31 by the time Rio rolls around, said he was unfazed by what people think about his return if he failed to live up to his previous standards.

”I’m doing this for me. If I don’t become as successful as you all think I would be or should be, and you think this tarnishes my career, then that’s your own opinion,” he said.

“I’m doing this because I want to come back and I enjoy being in the pool and I enjoy the sport of swimming. I’m just having fun.”

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Image: Michael Phelps
Photographs: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

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Januzaj to play for Belgium

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Manchester United winger Adnan Januzaj has decided to play international football for Belgium, the country's national team manager Marc Wilmots said on Wednesday.

Born in Belgium to ethnic Albanian parents from Kosovo, Januzaj was eligible to play for a number of countries and had been wooed by national teams including Belgium, Albania, Kosovo and England.

"I have received official confirmation that Adnan Januzaj has made himself available to the Belgium national team for the rest of his career," Wilmots said on his Twitter feed.

Belgium have qualified for the World Cup in Brazil, and are in a first-round group with Algeria, Russia and South Korea.

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Image: Adnan Januzaj
Photographs: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

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Revamp on cards for Liverpool's Anfield stadium

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Liverpool plan to revamp their Anfield stadium and increase capacity to just short of 60,000 fans in an effort to generate the match day revenues of their Premier League rivals, they announced on Wednesday.

The club, top of the Premier League and closing in on a first English title since 1990, released images of the proposed expansion of the Main Stand that will increase the capacity of their iconic stadium by 8,500 seats to 54,000.

They also revealed outline proposals for their Anfield Road end that they hope to boost by 4,800 seats.

They hope to complete the first phase of the development, that is subject to planning permission, in time for the 2016-2017 season, while there is no timescale on the second stage of the project.

Liverpool currently lag far behind two of their main rivals in terms of matchday revenue with Manchester United able to fill their 75,000 capacity Old Trafford stadium while Arsenal's Emirates Stadium holds around 60,000.

Since buying the club in 2010, Liverpool's owners the Fenway Sports Group have approached the issue of the stadium with caution after their predecessors Tom Hicks and George Gillett famously came unstuck by rushing through plans for a new ground.

Having made a promise to plant a spade in the ground within 60 days, their lavish designs for a new stadium were never realised.

"As part of our proposed stadium redevelopment project, we have unveiled the detail of our ambitious plans for an expanded Main Stand and Anfield Road stand and are embarking on a consultation process which will shape and inform our planning application," Liverpool's managing director Ian Ayre said on the club website.

"In order to move forward with our expansion plans we need to have certainty that we can navigate the complex planning process and secure the support of the community, local home owners, businesses and other key stakeholders. This consultation exercise is an important part of this process.

"We started this journey just over 18 months ago and a lot of work has already been done, there is still an incredible amount to do, but good progress has been made so far and we are proud to be able to unveil our plans."

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Image: Liverpool's Anfield stadium
Photographs: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

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No clubs facing European expulsion: Platini

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No clubs will be kicked out of European competition next season for breaking financial fair play rules, UEFA president Michel Platini said in an interview on Thursday.

UEFA's financial fair play (FFP) policy, designed to stop clubs spending more than they generate, comes into effect next season with a maximum penalty of exclusion from European competition for those failing to comply.

"In effect, the first decisions will be announced at the start of May," Platini told Le Parisien newspaper in an interview published on its website.

"But if you are expecting blood and tears and you will be disappointed. There will be some tough things but no exclusions from European competition."

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Image: Michel Platini


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Malaysian jailed over Australian soccer match-fixing

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The Malaysian ringleader of an Australian soccer match-fixing ring was jailed on Thursday, shortly after the lower league club involved was fined and deducted points for their failure to prevent the situation.

Victorian County Court Judge Michael Bourke sentenced Segaran "Gerry" Subramaniam to three years imprisonment, with two suspended, after he pleaded guilty to engaging in conduct to corrupt the betting outcome.

Subramaniam was arrested in September 2013 as part of a police investigation into betting irregularities surrounding Victorian Premier League club Southern Stars.

Given time already served, Subramaniam is likely to spend at least five months in jail, after which he will probably be deported, a court spokeswoman said.

Two English players have already been convicted and fined for their involvement, and slapped with worldwide life bans by soccer's global governing body FIFA earlier this year.

Early on Thursday, Football Federation Victoria (FFV), concluded its investigation into the Southern Stars, charging them with "misconduct by materially injuring the reputation and goodwill of football".

FFV fined the Southern Stars A$10,000 ($9,300), deducted eight championship points from its 2014 season and told them they must regularly report back during the season after undergoing educational courses.

"The investigation identified a serious lack of governance and failure to conduct due diligence by the committee at Southern Stars," FFV chief executive officer Mitchell Murphy said in a statement.

"Although no criminal charges have been laid against any of the committee members at Southern Stars, its poor administration provided an environment and the opportunity for the match-fixing to take place."

The punishments come after convicted soccer match-fixer Wilson Raj Parumal was arrested in Helsinki.

The 48-year-old Singaporean had been under house arrest in Hungary prior to his arrest last week.


Photographs: Stefan Postles/Getty Images

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