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Ecclestone lawyers face wait to question key prosecution witness

By Jörn Poltz

MUNICH Germany (Reuters) - Lawyers for Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone will have to wait until late July for their chance to cross-examine a jailed former banker who is the key prosecution witness in the billionaire Briton's bribery trial.

Gerhard Gribkowsky, former chief risk officer at German state-owned bank BayernLB, has told a court in Munich that Ecclestone bribed him when they worked together in the motor sport.

Ecclestone is accused of channeling $44 million to the German for smoothing the sale of a stake in Formula One held by BayernLB to the private equity firm CVC eight years ago.

The 83-year-old Ecclestone, who denies wrongdoing, could face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty and a conviction would end his long grip on a business he helped to create.

Ecclestone's lawyers wanted to challenge Gribkowsky's version of efforts on Wednesday but little time was available after his evidence had taken up two and a half days.

"Now the defense team is in the happy position of having 16 minutes to put questions before we break for lunch," judge Peter Noll said light-heartedly.

He set July 30 as the date for cross-examination to save having to reschedule other witness appearances.

The case is only being heard for a day or two each week to allow Ecclestone to continue to run the Formula One business he has built into a global money spinner.

Prosecutors allege that Ecclestone favored CVC as the new owner because it was committed to keeping him on as chief executive of the business.

Ecclestone admits making multi-million dollar payments to Gribkowsky but says this was to silence the German, who he said was threatening to make false claims about his tax status that could have jeopardized his fortune.

Gribkowsky had become involved in Formula One after BayernLB acquired a 47 percent stake in the business following the collapse of the Kirch media group in 2002.

The Munich court jailed him for 8-1/2 years in 2012 for corruption over the payments from Ecclestone.

(Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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