Ex-Volkswagen CEO Winterkorn charged in US over diesel scandal

By REUTERS | 6 May 2018

Winterkorn is unlikely to travel to the US to face indictment.

WASHINGTON/FRANKFURT: The United States has filed criminal charges against former Volkswagen AG boss Martin Winterkorn, accusing him of conspiring to cover up the German automaker’s diesel emissions cheating, in a rare attempt to prosecute a CEO for company actions.

The indictment reopens the question of whether other senior Volkswagen (VW) executives knew about the scandal, which has dogged Europe’s biggest automaker for more than 2-1/2 years and led to a regulatory crackdown that is threatening thousands of jobs as customers increasingly shun diesel-powered cars.

The indictment, filed by the Department of Justice (DoJ) in secret in March, was unsealed in a US district court on Thursday as VW held its annual meeting in Berlin.

Winterkorn, 70, is charged with four felony counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States, wire fraud and violating the Clean Air Act from at least May 2006 through November 2015, after VW admitted using illicit software that allowed diesel cars to emit excess pollution without detection.

Winterkorn resigned within days of the scandal becoming public in September 2015, but other senior executives who were on the company’s management board at the time continue to hold senior positions within the group.

Hans-Dieter Poetsch, who was finance chief, is now chairman of the supervisory board. Herbert Diess, now group CEO, joined the company on July 1 2015 as head of the VW brand, only weeks before authorities divulged its cheating on Sept 18, 2015.

Rupert Stadler, who was head of the Audi brand in 2015, has been given additional responsibilities for group sales in a revamp announced by Diess last month. Bernd Osterloh, the company’s powerful labour chief who also sits on the VW supervisory board, is still in place.

VW has said the decision to install illegal “defeat device” software was taken in 2006 below the management board level.

“None of the members of the board of management had, at that time and for many years to follow, knowledge of the development and implementation of this software function,” VW said in its 2017 annual report.

A lawyer for Winterkorn in Germany did not immediately comment. Winterkorn in January 2017 told German lawmakers he had not been informed of the cheating early, and would have halted it had he been aware.

A VW spokesman in Germany said the company “continues to cooperate with investigations” but does not comment about probes of individuals.”

Winterkorn is unlikely to face US authorities. Germany’s Federal Justice Ministry said on Friday it does not extradite German nationals to countries outside the European Union.

Winterkorn is currently in Germany is unlikely to travel to a jurisdiction that might extradite him to the United States, a source familiar with his thinking said.