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Germanwings Co-Pilot Intentionally Crashed Flight, Prosecutors Say

By Andrew McCathie, dpa (TNS)

BERLIN — The co-pilot of Germanwings flight 4U9525 “intentionally” crashed the Airbus with 150 people on board into the French Alps, Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said Thursday.

The co-pilot’s “intention was to destroy this plane,” Robin told a press conference in the southern French city. By pressing the button “he triggered the plane to go down.”

Robin named the co-pilot as Andreas Lubitz, 28. The incident is no longer being treated as a case of involuntary homicide, with the prosecutor stressing that the co-pilot was not considered a terrorist.

While avoiding the use of the word “suicide,” the prosecutor said the co-pilot had taken control of the aircraft after the captain left the cockpit and “voluntarily allowed the plane to descend.”

Lubitz was conscious before impact.

“His breathing was normal. It was not the breathing of someone about to carry out an act. He did not utter a word,” he said.

The passengers were likely not aware of a crash until just before impact, the prosecutor said.

“We could hear the cries (of the passengers) just minutes before the plane crash,” he said. “The co-pilot refused to open the door to let the captain back in,” even though the pilot was “violently” knocking on the door.

Photo: An aerial photo shows what appears to be wreckage from the crash of a Germanwings plane in the French Alps, between Barcelonnette and Digne, on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. (Duclet Stephane/Maxppp/Zuma Press/TNS)

Formula One Chief’s Bribery Trial Ends With Record 100-Million-Dollar Payment

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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German Collector At Center Of Nazi-Looted Art Scandal Dies

By Andrew McCathie

BERLIN — Cornelius Gurlitt, the German art collector whose stash of famous paintings worth an estimated $1.4 billion sparked an outcry about artwork looted by the Nazis, has died, his spokesman told the German news agency dpa Tuesday.

German prosecutors seized about 1,400 modern classics, including paintings by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Franz Marc, Paul Klee and Max Beckmann, from the 81-year-old Gurlitt’s apartment in central Munich in early 2012.

Since then, investigators have been attempting to determine how many of the artworks in Gurlitt’s collection were confiscated by the Nazis. About 600 works are under investigation.

“I have not loved anything more in my life than my paintings,” Gurlitt told the weekly Spiegel last year.

Many of the paintings were thought to have been acquired by his father, Hildebrand, who was a prominent Nazi-era art dealer.

Gurlitt, who had lived as a recluse and had been investigated for tax evasion, died after a long illness.

“The death of Cornelius Gurlitt brings to an end the (judicial) supervision as well as the investigation,” his lawyers said in a statement.

He had reached a deal in April with government authorities allowing them to examine the paintings in his collection to try to establish their ownership.

The 2012 raid on Gurlitt’s apartment was triggered after customs officers found him traveling on a train from Switzerland carrying a large amount of cash.

Gurlitt sold some of his art collection over the years.

In his interview with Spiegel, Gurlitt claimed he had not watched television since the 1960s and wrote letters to book hotel rooms. He had, however, heard of the internet.

The authorities agreed in April to return to him some of the seized artworks.

His father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, was permitted by the Nazis to sell so-called degenerate art confiscated from museums under a campaign by Hitler’s regime against what it deemed to be un-German or Jewish-Bolshevist art.

Much of this was displayed in the Nazis’ notorious degenerate art exhibition in 1937 in Munich.

Large parts of the art belonged to Jewish collectors who were forced to sell it for a pittance before the Holocaust.

Adam Berry via Flickr