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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Andrew Mccathie, dpa

Munich (dpa) — Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone’s bribery trial ended Tuesday after a Munich court accepted his record 100-million-dollar settlement offer.

The 83-year-old British billionaire agreed to make the payment within one week. Prosecutors also approved the settlement.

“He leaves this court a free man,” a court spokeswoman said.

Ecclestone had been accused of paying a 44-million-dollar kickback to a German banker in 2006 to ensure that the motor racing business was sold to a preferred buyer, CVC Capital Partners.

The settlement was “based on the financial circumstances of the accused,” Judge Peter Noll said after his decision to accept Ecclestone’s offer, which was the highest in German criminal history.

The judge added that conclusions on Ecclestone’s possible guilt in the case could not be drawn from the size of the settlement.

Ecclestone had assured the court that the 100 million dollars represented a “noticeable proportion” of his assets, but that he would not be unduly burdened by making the payment, Noll said.

Of the settlement, 99 million dollars is to be paid to the Bavarian state government with 1 million dollars going to an institute for child care, the Deutsche Kinderhospiz-Stiftung.

The case, which opened in April, had been originally due to run until September.

“I have the feeling that he is relieved,” Ecclestone’s lawyer Sven Thomas said after the acquittal of the case.

Now all the “gossip” about him wanting to buy his freedom could end, said Thomas.

“This is not a deal,” said Thomas. “This has nothing to do with buying freedom.”

Prosecutor Christian Weiss told the court in Munich that ending the case was justified in the light of Ecclestone’s advanced age, the length of the proceedings and other extenuating circumstances.

If he had been found guilty the diminutive former second car salesman could have faced a jail term of up to 10 years.

Noll’s decision to accept the settlement allows Ecclestone to retain control of the sport that he turned into a multi-billion-dollar business after acquiring the global television rights for Formula One in the 1970s. The court considers him innocent of all charges.

“It would have been a disaster for the Formula One if Bernie had been forced to stop,” said Niki Lauda, the Austrian-born three-time F1 World Champion and member of the Mercedes motor racing team board.

Ecclestone had admitted to paying Gerhard Gribkowsky, a former banker with Munich-based BayernLB, but denied any wrongdoing.

The F1 chief alleged that Gribkowsky had threatened to make false statements about his tax affairs to the British tax authorities.

Gribkowsky was sentenced in 2012 to eight-and-a-half years in jail for tax evasion and corruption for accepting the money.

Eccleston has faced other controversies in recent years.

In 2005, he was forced to apologize after making sexist remarks about women racing drivers.

Four years later he was forced to publicly apologize for saying Adolf Hitler had been “able to get things done”.

Ecclestone stepped down from the board of the company that runs the Formula One Group in January, after the Munich court ruled that he had to stand trial over the bribery allegations.

But he has continued to have oversight of the business on a day-to-day basis.

AFP Photo/Peter Kneffel

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Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]