BERLIN, Berlin, July 17, 2013 (AFP) - Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone was on Wednesday indicted on bribery charges by German prosecutors and faces a trial in Munich which could end the motor racing magnate's 40-year-reign.
The 82-year-old could face a prison sentence after being charged by Munich prosecutors in relation to a $44 million (33.6 million euro, £29 million) payment he made to German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky which was linked to the sale of the Formula One rights in 2006.
An English copy of the charges have been received by Ecclestone's lawyers and a date for the trial was not expected to be set before mid-September, said a spokesperson for the Munich I district court.
Ecclestone's defence team has until the middle of August to challenge the charges.
Last month, Gribkowsky was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in jail in Munich and Ecclestone has always denied bribing the German to avoid a British tax inquiry into the sale of Formula One, claiming he was blackmailed by Gribkowsky.
Ecclestone, who has been at the top of Formula One for four decades, told the Financial Times newspaper he was ready to defend himself and has given no hint of resigning.
"I have spoken to my lawyers and they have received an indictment, which is being translated into English," he said.
"We will defend ourselves properly, it is an interesting case, but it is a pity that this has happened."
If found guilty, Ecclestone could face a jail term which would bring down his Formula One empire.
"I am not guilty, but if I am sent to jail, I have to deal with it," he has already said on the matter.
"I do not think I would particularly like it, but you have to deal with certain things."
Having risen from a motor-racing enthusiast to the top of the Formula One empire he built, Ecclestone has already received support from inside the sport.
"Regardless of the situation, I think it's absolutely right that he will continue," said Christian Horner, team principal of world champion Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull.
"There is no one better in the role than Bernie - even if nobody has a real idea of exactly what the role involves.
"The deals, which he still does, are outstanding.
"Moreover, the main thing is he takes Formula One to new countries, which he does with passion and enthusiasm."
Horner said the sport would suffer, should Ecclestone be forced to quit.
"It is in our interest that he does this job for as long as possible," said the 39-year-old.
"After him, things will only get worse for our sport. Formula One is only what it is because of Bernie Ecclestone.
"Without him, we'd be in real trouble."
Ecclestone's rise to become the most powerful man in Formula One began in the late 1970s when he bought the television and marketing rights and has built up the sport into one of the most profitable sports events in the world.