Bernie Ecclestone's future as Formula One's chief executive remains in doubt despite successfully defending a damages claim for pounds 85m in the high court.
The judge, Mr Justice Newey, yesterday dismissed the case against Ecclestone brought by the German media company Constantin Medien. But Newey said he found it "impossible" to regard Ecclestone as "a reliable or truthful witness". He found that payments made by Ecclestone to the former BayernLB (BLB) banker Gerhard Gribkowsky constituted a bribe, made because "Mr Ecclestone had entered into a corrupt agreement with Dr Gribkowsky in May 2005".
Newey's observations will be looked at long and hard by Formula One in general, and by his employer, CVC Capital Partners, in particular. CVC has already said Ecclestone will be dismissed if found guilty of any criminal wrongdoing.
Yesterday's high-court judgment came two months after the claim brought by Constantin Medien, which said it had lost out because the sport had been undervalued when it was sold to the private equity company CVC eight years ago. Constantin Medien is appealing against the verdict.
Ecclestone, who denies any wrongdoing, must now prepare for the more serious proceedings in Munich's state court in April, when he will face criminal charges, with the possibility of a 10-year prison sentence. In Germany, he will face bribery allegations, based on his payment of pounds 27m to Gribkowsky, who was responsible for selling its 47% stake in F1 to CVC. A verdict is not expected before September.
Ecclestone does not deny the payment but says Gribkowsky was blackmailing him over his tax affairs. Gribkowsky was convicted of corruption and tax evasion in 2012 and jailed for eight-and-a-half years.
Newey, referring to the "corrupt agreement", said: "Dr Gribkowsky was to be rewarded for facilitating the sale of BLB's shares in the Formula One group to a buyer acceptable to Mr Ecclestone."
The judge found it was not Ecclestone's intention for BayernLB's shares to be sold at an "undervalue", though Ecclestone was "probably conscious of a risk that the shares would be sold for less as a result of his arrangement with Dr Gribkowsky. No loss to Constantin has been shown to have been caused by the corrupt arrangement. That fact is fatal to the claim."
Keith Oliver, head of commercial fraud at Peters and Peters, solicitors acting for Constantin, said after the judgment that the judge "found it impossible to regard Bernie Ecclestone as a reliable or truthful witness". The blackmail explanation made by Ecclestone was said to be "thoroughly implausible", Oliver added, as he announced his clients were appealing.
Ecclestone said: "Whether I told the truth or not . . . questions were asked, I answered them and I told the truth. This was an opinion that had nothing to do with the case.
"This case was about the value of some shares. It was nothing to do with whether I did or didn't tell the truth, or whether I was unreliable or not."
He told the Bloomberg news agency: "I'm a bit better off financially than I could have been, that's what it was all about." He wanted the trial in Germany to begin so he could "clear up all the nonsense".
Ecclestone, 83, stood down as a director of F1's holding company, Delta Topco Limited, last month, when it was announced that the German case would go ahead. He has remained in "day-to-day control" of the sport, albeit under the supervision of the board's chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, and his deputy, Donald Mackenzie.
Bernie Ecclestone at the high court last year. Yesterday he defeated an pounds 85m damages claim Photograph: Nicholas Razzell