German prosecutors said Monday they had charged former Volkswagen chief executive Martin Winterkorn and four other managers over “dieselgate”, bringing the cheating scandal back into the headlines just as VW battles to move on from the affair.
Prosecutors in Brunswick, near VW’s Wolfsburg HQ in northern Germany, said they had charged Winterkorn and four other managers.
Among the accusations against the former chief executive were “a particularly serious case of fraud”, “infraction of the law against unfair competition” and “breach of trust”.
Winterkorn was CEO during a period when VW fitted 11 million diesel-powered vehicles worldwide with so-called “defeat devices” — software that made them appear less polluting in the lab than in real driving conditions.
Such allegations have hit other German manufacturers since, with Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler confirming Sunday it was facing a regulatory probe, reportedly over 60,000 vehicles.
At the helm from 2007 to 2015, Winterkorn, a trained engineer, had a reputation as a detail-obsessed executive who was familiar with “every screw” of each VW model.
The group admitted to the fraud in September 2015, beginning a drawn-out process of fact-finding and legal action that has so far seen it pay out 29 billion euros ($33 billion) in fines, compensation and buyback schemes, much of it in the United States.
But in his role as “guarantor” to authorities and customers that the group was not selling cheating vehicles, Winterkorn “failed to reveal” the fraud immediately after he learned of it as early as May 2014, or to prevent the sale of infringing vehicles, prosecutors said.
“In the end, this resulted in the imposition of higher fines against Volkswagen AG in Germany as well as the USA,” the prosecutors said.
Winterkorn’s lawyer Felix Doerr complained prosecutors had not given the defence time to examine all the documents related to the case before bringing charges.
Investors appeared little impressed by the fresh move against Winterkorn, and Volkswagen shares added 1.1 percent to close at 154.98 euros, outperforming the DAX blue-chip index.
It was not immediately clear whether the other four accused on Monday — whom prosecutors did not identify by name or position — still work at VW or have since left.
Meanwhile the Braunschweig prosecutors recalled that “investigations of 36 other suspects are continuing”.
Volkswagen stressed in a statement that German criminal investigations into the company itself had closed last year, when VW paid a fine of one billion euros and its high-end subsidiary Audi another 800 million euros.
The firm “will not comment” on the new charges, it added.
Aftershocks from the diesel scandal have been serious enough to change the auto industry titan’s course, with bosses now making a massive bet on electrification over the next decade.