Banker fell in love with F1 lifestyle: Ecclestone

By Christian Kraemer

MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - A former German banker, on trial for embezzlement and bribery in a Formula One rights deal, fell in love with the sport's glamorous lifestyle and wanted to be a part of it, Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone told a German court on Thursday.

Gerhard Gribkowsky, an ex-BayernLB banker, is on trial charged with selling Formula One rights in return for a bribe, with the involvement of Ecclestone.

Gribkowsky is charged with bribery, embezzlement and tax evasion in a deal that cost the bank 66 million euros ($92 million), with him pocketing about 32 million euros as part of a bribe, according to prosecutors.

"They fall in love with Formula One," the 81-year-old Briton, who runs the commercial side of the sport, said on his second day as witness in the ongoing trial.

Ecclestone said Gribkowsky was like so many other people in that way.

"He liked the lifestyle," he said, adding the banker had become his ex-wife's "drinking partner," when they met each other at races.

"He made it quite clear that he wants to leave the bank," Ecclestone said, adding Gribkowsky was pushing for further involvement in the sport after his bank sold the rights.

Ecclestone had told the court on Wednesday he had paid off the banker with millions of euros to keep him quiet and from going to British tax authorities.

The Briton said that merely a tax probe could have been "a disaster" for him and his companies and could have cost him more as much as two billion pounds.

BayernLB had a stake in Formula One up to 2006 along with JP Morgan, Lehman Brothers and Ecclestone's family trust.

The banks had acquired a 75 percent stake in F1 holding company SLEC after the collapse of Germany's Kirch media group, which had borrowed some $1.6 billion from them.

BayernLB was Kirch's biggest creditor.

SLEC was sold to the current Formula One rights holders, private equity firm CVC, in 2006 with Ecclestone remaining hands-on in running the business.

The trial follows Gribkowsky's arrest in January and is expected to last several months.

He denies the charges.

(Writing by Karolos Grohmann, Editing by Mark Meadows)