'I would like him running Europe': Ecclestone's friendship with Putin
‘I would like him running Europe’: Bernie Ecclestone’s friendship with Vladimir Putin was forged through 2014 Sochi Grand Prix as old interviews resurface of billionaire, 91, insisting he is a ‘good guy’ who was not behind Salisbury poisonings
- Ecclestone, 91, laid it on thick in defence of his years-long pal Putin, 69, today
- He branded warmonger a ‘sensible’ man and vowed to ‘still take a bullet for him’
- Comments are nothing new after he previously said he should be running Europe
They are both billionaires who believe in strong leadership – so it’s not hard to imagine Bernie Eccleston and Vladimir Putin as friends.
And in case there were any doubts, the ex-Formula One boss, 91, put them to bed today in an astonishing defence of the warring Russian president, 69.
In a bizarre interview with Good Morning Britain, the 5’2 entrepreneur said he would ‘still take a bullet’ for Putin – who also happens to be below average height, measuring an estimated 5’7.
The father-of-four laid it on thick, branding the warmonger a ‘first class’ and ‘sensible’ person – despite the tens of thousands of innocents slain in his illegal invasion of Ukraine.
Ecclestone, however, said such civilian losses were ‘not intentional’, and even blamed Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky for the war, saying he should have tried harder to ‘talk to Mr Putin’.
The comments sparked fury online, while Foreign Secretary Liz Truss condemned the ‘apologist’ remarks as ‘shocking’.
They are both billionaires who don’t believe in democracies, so it’s not hard to imagine Bernie Eccleston and Vladimir Putin as friends. (Pictured together in 2013, at the inaugural Russian Formula One Grand Prix)
Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP walks past Russian President Vladimir Putin on the podium after the Russian Formula One Grand Prix at Sochi Autodrom on October 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia
But they are nothing new when it comes to Ecclestone, whose friendship with Putin blossomed following the introduction of the Formula One Russian Grand Prix in 2014.
Sochi was announced as the host city of the annual event under a lucrative seven-year deal.
However the £40million contract was ended this year following the Ukraine invasion.
After signing the initial contract, Bernie and Vlad were regularly seen sharing a box at sporting events over the years.
They were often pictured in deep conversation or laughing while sharing a joke.
By 2016, the ex-F1 boss was saying he thought Putin should be running Europe.
‘I would like him running Europe,’ he told the Times six years ago.
‘We haven’t got anybody, so it couldn’t be any worse. He does what he says he is going to do.’
Mr Eccelstone is a known admirer of the Russian President, and the duo have been seen at sporting events together. (Pictured at F1 event in Sochi, Russia, in 2018)
He then admitted: ‘I am not a supporter of democracy. You need a dictator. As a dictator, you say, ‘This is what I am going to do.’ In a democracy, it gets watered down.’
And it was in 2019 that Ecclestone first offered to take a bullet for for the dictator.
He said at the time that he would ‘stand in front of a machine gun’ to save him, because he is a ‘good guy.’
He added that the illegal annexation of Crimea was just to ‘bring Russia back together.’
Ecclestone also said he did not believe Putin was behind the infamous Novichok attack in Salisbury, accusing people of making things up.
He said: ‘He didn’t do that. He would be too busy to be worrying about that sort of thing. Storytellers make these things up.’
Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok on March 4 2018.
Dawn Sturgess, 44, died after she came into contact with a perfume container used to carry the Novichok on June 30.
The two suspects – known by their aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – were caught on CCTV in Salisbury the day before the attack, and in an interview claimed they were just visiting to see the town to see the cathedral.
The Russian government has always denied any involvement in the incident.
Bernie Ecclestone: No stranger to controversy
Bernie Ecclestone’s comments today in defence of Vladimir Putin and Nelson Piquet are just another in a long list of controversies to plague the 91-year-old billionaire’s career.
Here we list them below.
He was previously forced to apologise when speaking in praise of Adolf Hitler, saying he was a man that could ‘get things done.’
At the same time, he accused Jews of failing to solve the banking crisis, even though ‘they have a lot of influence everywhere’.
A spokesman for Germany’s Central Council of Jews said: ‘No team should work with him any more – a boycott would be more than appropriate.’
Later, Ecclestone said he was ‘so sorry’ and called himself ‘an idiot’.
Ecclestone was accused of paying a £27million kickback to disgraced banker Gerhard Gribkowsky in 2005, to get him to sell his bank’s holdings in Formula One to a client of Ecclestone’s choosing.
The sport’s boss claimed the money was not in dispute but that he paid it because he was being ‘shaken down’ and wanted Gribkowsky to keep silent about his wealth to British tax authorities.
Ecclestone was cleared of bribery charges in August 2014 after he paid a German criminal court £60million.
The case caused anger in Germany where critics said Ecclestone had been ‘washed clean’ thanks to his ‘spectacular’ payment.
Campaigners said allowing the defendant to use his wealth to stop a criminal prosecution was ‘worrying’.
When seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton launched a commission to tackle racism and diversity in F1 following the murder of George Floyd, Ecclestone initially praised the idea.
However he then asked whether it would ‘do anything bad or good for Formula One’, before adding: ‘In a lot of cases, black people are more racist than white people are.’
Hamilton took to Instagram to brand Ecclestone ‘ignorant and uneducated’, before the Formula One Group was forced to issue a statement saying they ‘completely disagree with Bernie Ecclestone’s comments that have no place in Formula 1 or society.’
Alleged tax avoidance
During his bribery investigation in Germany, it emerged that Ecclestone had been probed by the UK tax authorities for nine years for allegedly avoiding the payment of £1.2 billion through a legal tax avoidance scheme.
The matter was brought to a close in 2008 when HM Revenue and Customs agreed to settle with a payment of £10million.
Arrest for gun in suitcase
Most recently, on May 25 this year, Ecclestone was arrested for illegally carrying a firearm while boarding a private plane to Switzerland in Brazil.
The undocumented LW Seecamp .32 was found in his luggage by a scanner.
Ecclestone claimed he was unaware it was in his bag before paying a bill and jetting to Switzerland as planned.
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