Former Volkswagen CEO charged with fraud in Germany

Germany's indictment of Winterkorn is country's first criminal indictment in association with Dieselgate

Photo: EPA Former Vokswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn.

German prosecutors charged former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn and four others with fraud in the emissions cheating scandal that has helped turn many Europeans against diesel engines and accelerated the push toward electric cars.

According to prosecutors' statement last Monday Winterkorn and the others, whose names were not released, knew about the Dieselgate scheme since at least May 2014 and failed to put a stop to it. That contradicted the former CEOs claims that he didn't learn about it until shortly before US investigators announced it in September 2015.

Now the 71-year-old Winterkorn and the others involved face six months to 10 years in prison if convicted of aggravated fraud involving serious losses. Other charges include unfair competition and breach of trust. Prosecutors said the defendants could also be forced to forfeit sales bonuses ranging from around 300,000 euros to 11 million euros. 36 more suspects remain under investigation, as well.

For now, VW declines to comment on the charges, describing them as a private matter. Felix Dorr, Winterkorn's lawyer also said he would comment on the charges only when he had read the full indictment.

As Europost reminds, in 2015, US officials accused VW Group of putting illegal software on diesel Audis, Volkswagens, and Porsches. The software would essentially kill the cars' emissions-reduction systems during real-world driving to improve performance, but under laboratory conditions, the cars would pass emissions tests easily. Later, it was discovered that VW Group's diesels were using the same mechanism to subvert EU vehicle emissions standards.

Since then Volkswagen has paid more than 27bn euros in fines and civil settlements with authorities and car owners since getting caught.

The automaker apologised and pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the United States, where two executives were sentenced to prison and six others charged for defrauding investors through misleading statements about vehicle quality and environmental compliance.

Investors in Germany are also seeking damages.

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