VW sets end-November deadline for scandal whistleblowers

By REUTERS | 13 November 2015

BERLIN: Volkswagen has set a deadline at the end of November for its whistleblower program designed to encourage workers to disclose information about the carmaker's two emissions scandals in a move to speed up investigations.

Europe's largest carmaker has been making slow progress in finding out who had knowledge of the rigging of diesel emissions tests two months after the manipulations became public in the United States, and last week also admitted to cheating on carbon dioxide emissions certifications.

Under the whistleblower program, approved by VW's top management, workers who get in touch with internal investigators no later than Nov 30 will be exempt from dismissals and damage claims, according to a letter from VW brand chief Herbert Diess to staff seen by Reuters on Thursday.

"We are counting on your cooperation and knowledge as our company’s employees to get to the bottom of the diesel and CO2 issue," Diess was quoted as saying in the document. "In this process, every single day counts."

His comments confirmed an earlier report by Sueddeutsche Zeitung jointly with German broadcasters NDR and WDR.

VW has said it hired advisory firm Deloitte and US law firm Jones Day to investigate under what circumstances the company installed software into diesel cars that changed engine settings to reduce emissions whenever the vehicle was put through tests.

VW is eager to show federal prosecutors in Detroit and Washington that it is fully cooperating with the criminal investigation into the company’s admitted use of "defeat devices" in 482,000 US diesel vehicles.

US attorney Preet Bharara in New York in September cited General Motors Co's (GM.N) cooperation as a factor in the government's decision to impose a US$900 million fine for the delayed ignition switch recall linked to 124 deaths and 275 injuries.

By contrast, Bharara's office imposed a fine of US$1.2 billion in March 2014 for Toyota Motor Corp's  delayed recall over sudden acceleration problems which were linked to only about a half-dozen deaths.

In another development, former Volkswagen chief executive Martin Winterkorn has stepped down as chairman of luxury brand Audi amid the emissions scandal investigation.

Winterkorn quit his post at Audi on Wednesday, a spokesman at the Ingolstadt-based carmaker said on Thursday, after resigning as chief executive of family-owned Porsche SE, VW's majority stakeholder, last month.

The 68-year-old Winterkorn was forced to resign as VW group chief executive by the carmaker's influential labour leaders and the state of Lower Saxony, VW's No. 2 shareholder, on Sept 23, five days after the company's rigging of diesel emissions tests became public in the United States.

VW has been rocked by revelations that its diesel cars were equipped with a software capable of cheating emissions rules, affecting 11 million vehicles worldwide including Audi models.

The scandal took on a new dimension last week when Wolfsburg-based VW admitted it also manipulated carbon dioxide emissions levels of 800,000 cars, adding this could cost it another 2 billion euros (US$2.15 billion) besides the 6.7 billion it has set aside to cover costs related to the diesel-emissions fiasco.