Just before Ecclestone rushed off to fly in his private jet to the F1 grand prix in Abu Dhabi, Bernie Ecclestone was giving evidence in modern Germany's biggest corruption trial. It gave an illuminating insight into one of the richest men in world sport. He was testifying against Gerhard Gribkowsky, a former executive at the state-owned BayernLB bank, who is accused of accepting Ecclestone's $44m (£27.5m) in return for smoothing over the 2005 sale of the bank's $839m stake in F1 to CVC, the private equity group. Ecclestone claims that he paid up only because he was "shaken down" by the German, who, according to Ecclestone, was going to give HM Revenue and Customs "false" information about his financial affairs which could leave him with a tax bill "in excess of £2bn".
Ecclestone's insists that Bambino, the multibillion-pound offshore trust set up in Slavika's name containing the bulk of his assets, is not in fact controlled by him. "I don't control the trust, but if the Revenue had investigated, the burden of proof would have been on me to prove I wasn't," he said. Ecclestone said that Slavika and Bambino's trustees decided to contribute to the "shakedown" payment of their own accord, rather than because he ordered them to do so. He and his ex-wife, Croatian model Slavika, 53, never discussed business or financial affairs. This matters because Ecclestone says he had been advised that the trust's balance would be subject to a 40% tax claim from Revenue and Customs if they believe he has anything to do with it: an allegation Ecclestone has said he thought Gribkowsky was going to make.
He didn't ever discuss a figure with Gribkowsky, he testified – a claim received with incredulity by the judge. "You're seriously saying you were going to transfer all that money without telling him so that he only discovered it when he went to the cash machine and checked his balance?" he asked.
Yes, insisted Ecclestone. "[Gribkowsky] wasn't the sort of person to say 'pay me this or I'll do that' and I'm not the sort of person who says 'I'll pay you this if you don't do that,'" he said.
'let's think about it.' Which in English is a very clear no. People don't always understand that."