F1 chief wins legal battle over alleged bribe

Bernie Ecclestone had faced criminal charges and two lawsuits since the bribery claims surfaced.

Formula 1 supremo, Bernie Ecclestone. Picture: EPA.

NEW YORK - A New York appeals court has upheld the dismissal of a $650 million lawsuit against Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, saying he cannot be sued in the state's courts over the sale of a major stake in the motor racing business.

In a 2012 suit, investment firm Bluewaters Communications accused the 84-year-old English billionaire of giving a $45 million bribe to a German banker in 2006 to secure the deal to private equity firm CVC Capital Partners.

Bluewaters claimed in the suit that it was the highest bidder and Ecclestone had favoured a sale to CVC because it planned to keep him on as chief executive of Formula One, a post he has held since 1978.

The case was dismissed in January, and Bluewaters appealed.

The appeals court in Manhattan on Thursday said the claims could not be heard in a New York court because the case had no ties to the state.

Germany, England and the island of Jersey, where Bluewaters is incorporated, were more appropriate forums, the court said.

"This case stems from the failure of a Jersey company to acquire the shares of another Jersey company from a German bank, allegedly because an Englishman bribed a German," the court wrote. "New York's interest is minimal."

Ecclestone has faced criminal charges and two nine-figure lawsuits since the bribery claims surfaced.

In February, a London court dismissed a $170 million suit brought by a German media company that had sought to purchase the stake in Formula One.

A UK appeals court on Wednesday refused to review that decision.

In August, Ecclestone agreed to pay about $100 million to settle bribery claims in Germany, where he had faced 10 years in prison.

Kent Yalowitz, who represents Bluewaters, said he was disappointed with the New York decision but expected the firm to have its day in court elsewhere.

Ecclestone's attorney did not return a request for comment.