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Reports: VW board knew of defeat devices early

Are Volkswagen shareholders right in assuming they should have been informed about emissions test rigging way ahead of the actual plunge in share prices? Recent German media reports suggest they might have a point.

Volkswagen's own acknowledgement of its large-scale emissions tests manipulations in mid-September of last year very quickly led to billions of euros being erased from the firm's market value. Shareholders were left with no chance to sell without incurring huge losses.

Half a year on, they're still looking for answers as to whether Europe's largest carmaker withheld some vital information at the time, preventing shareholders from acting before the disaster took its course.

Germany's "Bild" newspaper reported VW's new CEO, Matthias Müller, and others were alerted by his predecessor, Martin Winterkorn, to the

use of illicit emissions-control software

in the US a full two weeks before the Wolfsburg-based auto maker itself disclosed the scale of its manipulations in some 11 million diesel cars globally.

Following the September 8 board meeting, former Chief Finance Officer Hans Dietrich Pötsch was frequently criticized by some investors for failing to inform shareholders of the looming problem.

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Passing the buck?

Volkswagen itself again defended its behavior on March 2, saying it had not failed in its duties, because it had no idea just how expensive the affair could become until the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its statement on September 18.

The "Süddeutsche Zeitung" newspaper reported Monday that Volkswagen's actions - or rather non-actions - were driven by an "interest in secrecy" as the carmaker was hoping to find a solution with US authorities without incurring major fines, and without the scandal becoming public at all.

The daily cited a VW position paper drawn up to fend off damage claims from shareholders.

Germany-based law firm TILP, representing some shareholders' suits against VW, dismissed the carmaker's interpretation of disclosure rules as "misleading and wrong," and accused the company of trying to blame its stock plunge on the EPA September 18 notice of violation.

hg/hch (Reuters, AFP)

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