In a rare attempt to prosecute a CEO for corporate actions, 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 cheating on diesel emissions.
The indictment raises the issue of whether additional senior Volkswagen (VW) executives were aware of the scandal, which has dogged Europe’s largest automaker for more than two and a half years and resulted in a regulatory crackdown that is endangering thousands of jobs as consumers turn away from diesel-powered vehicles.
Reportedly, German investigators will also continue their probe into former Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn’s role in the automaker’s diesel scandal even after the U.S. Justice Department filed criminal charges against him.
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 continued to hold senior positions within the group.
Winterkorn is the highest-ranking person to be charged in the three-year investigation, opening a new chapter in the scandal that burst into the open in 2015 when VW admitted to rigging the emissions setups of some 11 million vehicles worldwide. VW has said the decision to install illegal “defeat device” software was taken in 2006 below the management board level.
So far, 9 people have been charged and two former VW executives have pleaded guilty in the case and been sentenced to prison terms in the U.S. One Italian citizen, former Audi manager Giovanni Pamio, is in Germany awaiting extradition. However, 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 U.S. authorities, as according to Germany’s Federal Justice Ministry, it does not extradite German nationals to countries outside the European Union.
VW settled criminal charges with the U.S. Justice Department in 2017 and agreed to a $4.3 billion payment. In total, VW has agreed to spend more than $25 billion in the United States to address claims from owners, environmental regulators, states, and dealers.
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