MONACO (Reuters) -Former Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone denied on Friday he had been arrested in Brazil and said an illegal gun found in his luggage before boarding a flight was never used and had no ammunition.
The 91-year-old Briton, now in Portugal, told Reuters a “silly, tiny little incident” had caused a lot of aggravation as he and his family tried to leave Sao Paulo by private plane on Wednesday night.
“I haven’t had any publicity lately and I thought I ought to do something to get some,” he joked in a telephone conversation.
Sao Paulo state public security office confirmed in a statement to Reuters on Thursday that a businessman was arrested for possession of a firearm at Campinas’ airport, but did not name him directly..
“I was never arrested,” said Ecclestone, who does not speak Portuguese and confirmed that he had to pay 6,060 reais ($1,260) bail before being allowed to leave.
“They wanted it in local currency which we never had,” he added. “So there was another drama trying to find the money. I was leaving the country, I didn’t have any local money.
“It was a bleeding drama, unnecessary, over a nothing.”
Ecclestone said he had bought the handgun, a LW Seecamp .32, from a Formula One mechanic or tyre man in Brazil years ago without ammunition and for use purely as a deterrent.
“They said you need something like this,” he explained. “It might work if someone tried to mug you or something. So I bought it from the guy.
“I had it in the house and used to muck around with it if people came to visit me or something, we would joke around,” he added.
The billionaire has a coffee plantation near Sao Paulo where he regularly spends time when not in Europe.
Ecclestone said he had been joking around with his son Ace and had left the gun in a shirt pocket and the people packing his luggage put it in a suitcase without being aware of the gun.
An airport scan then revealed the firearm, which had not been registered.
“It was never going to be shot, it never had any bullets so I never bothered to register it. I didn’t know you had to,” said Ecclestone.
The billionaire said he then spent from 8pm until 5am at the airport making statements and completing paperwork before leaving in the morning.
“It was good that they picked it up because if I’d come into Portugal and they’d found it, it would have been another mystery here,” he said.
Ecclestone is married to Brazilian-born Fabiana Ecclestone, an FIA vice-president and member of the World Motor Sport Council.
Her mother Aparecida Schunck was kidnapped in Sao Paulo in 2016, with criminals demanding 120 million reais ($25.07 million) in ransom before she was freed nine days later in a police raid without any money being paid.
The Ecclestones attended several events in the South American country in May, including a local Stock Car race in the countryside near Sao Paulo and a meeting with triple world champion Nelson Piquet in Brasilia.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)