A tiny elephant in the room

August 6, 2014 by Lena Siep - Keine Kommentare

I am not a law specialist and I know little about justice. But I couldn’t help but giggle at the irony of a man paying a court 100 Million dollar to get out of a bribery trial.

But could something so obvious be overseen by the rigorous German justice? What may seem like an elephant in the room to some people was the Munich court’s decision to drop the charges against F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone yesterday in exchange for a sum of 100 Million Dollar. Odd as it may seem at first, in German law it is possible to discontinue a trial via such an agreement and it may be a little known fact that this happens all the time.

Nontheless, F1 fans and armchair enthusiasts around the world are now raving against the 83-year old in the Social media and meanwhile F1 seems to continue to live on fabulous scandals around its main protagonists. So I thought it might be worth to discuss the case with someone a little more neutral and confronted a German lawyer friend of mine specializing in business violations. Even if prosecutors may decide to discontinue proceedings because of the minor nature of an offense, isn’t a 44 Mio. Dollar bribe of a banker in order to facilitate the sale of a major stake a more severe case altogether? „Well“ my friend says (like all lawyers looking at such cases from a rather unemotional angle), „it is actually more likely that proceedings were discontinued because the evidence was a little shaky. So rather than continuing to debate until Christmas, they offered to end it now for a certain sum of money.“ In plain terms: If the judge would have seen a chance to convict Bernie, he would have done so.

However, the man is 83 years old and jail would have been an unlikely outcome anyway. But does that mean that you just have to be old enough and rich enough to do whatever you like and then whinge and buy yourself out of every wrongdoing? It seems indeed that the trial was put to rest rather hastily. And for some of us, a settlement of 100 Mio Dollar seems to say „guilty“ in itself. However, the truth is that such agreements aren’t rare at all and in fact, have ended various other cases before (Amongst them quite a few famous defendants such as Helmut Kohl in 2001 and Josef Ackermann in 2006). According to the German newspaper WAZ more than 300.000 Germans buy their way out of trials each year. The German criminal code does not specify any particular sum for such agreements, but it must be one that hurts that particular defendant, and in case of multi billionaire Ecclestone this was the eye watering amount of 100 Million Dollars…which he paid in a matter of days.

And so Bernie returns to the circus as if nothing ever happened and the rest of us may feel a little bewildered by the images of the F1 boss signing autographs for fans outside the Munich court yesterday. After all, the early end of this trial also means that we will never find out what really happened between Gribkowsky and Ecclestone eight years ago. But, after my dear lawyer friend „it is not the court’s task to satisfy the sense of justice of the broad public“. And if they don’t find enough evidence, then a discontinuation of the trial is one of the options, provided all parties agree and provided the defendant is able to pay the sum determined by the court. „In theory, this type of ending is available to everyone although an ordinary mortal would have to pay a little less in such a case.“

Some fairness after all. And a little cash for a good cause: 99 Mio. EUR for the lovely state of Bavaria and 1 Mio. for a Children’s Hospice in Olpe. Thank you Bernie.

Photo by © Alexander Sandvoss | Dreamstime.com