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Ex-VW boss Martin Winterkorn charged in Dieselgate scandal

April 15, 2019

German prosecutors have charged former Volkswagen boss Martin Winterkorn in the diesel emissions scandal. The charges include one of major fraud. The news coincides with VW showcasing its wares at the Shanghai auto show.

Martin Winterkorn
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. v. Jutrczenka

Public prosecutors in the German city of Braunschweig have brought charges against former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn over his role in the Dieselgate scandal, they said on Monday. Four other managers were also charged, they said.

Winterkorn stepped down as Volkswagen CEO in 2015 after revelations that the carmaker had programmed computers in its vehicles to detect when they were being tested and had altered the running of diesel engines to conceal the true level of emissions.

What are the charges, are others at risk?

  • The five are accused of multiple crimes realized in a single criminal action, especially a particularly serious case of fraud and an infraction of the law against unfair competition.
  • Winterkorn was given special mention for allegedly acting as a "guarantor" to authorities that VW was not selling manipulated vehicles even after he knew about the illegal manipulations.
  • Current CEO Herbert Diess said in Shanghai that he didn't expect to face charges.
  • VW shares, seemingly unaffected by the news, rose slightly in trading on Monday.

What could be the penalty? The prosecutors' statement said that the defendants could face from six months to 10 years' imprisonment if found guilty. It also said that they might have to forfeit any bonuses they had earned from sales based on the manipulation.

Read more: European Commission finds German automakers illegally colluded on emissions technology 

What charges are especially leveled at Winterkorn? Prosecutors said the former CEO knew about the emissions cheating as early as May 25, 2014, more than a year before VW publicly admitting to using the software in its vehicles to make them seem less polluting under lab conditions than on the road. They said Winterkorn also oversaw the issue of a software update in November 2014 whose only purpose was to cover up the cheating devices. Winterkorn has also had criminal charges filed against him in the US, but Germany does not typically extradite its citizens for prosecution in US courts. He has previously denied any personal involvement in the scandal.

Read more: Daimler: New emissions cheating software discovered — report

Current VW CEO not expecting charges

The charges coincide with the 2019 Auto Shanghai, one of the biggest car shows in the world. Speaking on the sidelines of the show, current VW CEO Herbert Diess said he was not expecting to face charges.

"I am not among the accused," Diess said. "I do not expect to be charged."

The VW CEO did not comment on Winterkorn's charges, instead focusing on the future of VW, in particular its ID ROOMZ, a planned new SUV which it presented in Shanghai on Sunday.

Diess said the ID ROOMZ will be the flagship electric car to be launched by VW in China.

"We plan to produce more than 22 million electric cars in the next 10 years," Diess said, adding that around half of VW's engineers were working on products destined for China. Diess said the ID ROOMZ would eventually be rolled out to other markets.

Heavy costs

Volkswagen has already incurred costs of €29 billion ($32.8 billion) related to the diesel emission scandal, much of that in the United States by way of fines, compensation and buyback schemes. In Germany, it has paid €1.8 billion in two fines. The company is also facing cases brought by hundreds of thousands of customers in Germany wanting compensation for having bought vehicles that turned out to have been manipulated.

The charges against Winterkorn appeared to have little effect on the markets, with VW shares going up 1.25 percent to trade at €158.15 around 5:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Monday in Frankfurt.

Read more: VW emissions scandal: What did Winterkorn know?

tj, law/msh (Reuters, dpa, AP)

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