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Volkswagen claims damages from ex-CEOs over 'dieselgate'

March 26, 2021

The auto group says past executives breached their "duty of care." Both ex-Volkswagen and Audi CEOs, Martin Winterkorn and Rupert Stadler, have rejected the accusations.

Martin Winterkorn, former Volkswagen CEO
Former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkor has been accused of breaching his "duty of care"Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrczenka

German auto giant Volkswagen (VW) said on Friday that it will claim damages from former chief executive Martin Winterkorn and former Audi boss Rupert Stadler over the "dieselgate" emissions cheating scandal.

The company said that following a long legal probe, it had concluded that the two former CEOs had breached their duty of care. However, the group said it had found no violations carried out by other members of the management board.

Both of the executives have denied any responsibility in the scandal. Winterkorn's lawyers said in a statement that he regretted the board's decision and rejected the accusations.

"Mr Prof Dr Winterkorn is aware that the supervisory board is obliged to assess potential claims and to possibly assert them. He will therefore seek to clarify those questions in consultation with Volkswagen AG," the statement said. Winterkorn resigned from his position as VW chief executive shortly after the emissions scandal was uncovered by US authorities and scientists.

The scandal has cost VW more than €30 billion ($35 billion) in fines, legal costs and compensation.

"The Supervisory Board of Volkswagen AG has drawn a line under its clarification process and ended its investigation started in October 2015 into the causes of the diesel crisis and who was responsible for this," Volkswagen said in a statement.

'Breaches of duty of care'

"As a result, the Supervisory Board decided at its meeting today to assert claims for damages against the former Chairman of the Group Board of Management, Prof. Martin Winterkorn, and the former Group Board of Management member and Chairman of the Board of Management of AUDI AG, Rupert Stadler, on account of breaches of the duty of care under stock corporation law."

The company admitted in 2015 to using illegal software to rig millions of diesel engine tests in the United States, creating the biggest scandal in its history.

Volkswagen is electrifying America

Both CEOs 'privy to illicit software'

One of the key findings in Friday's decision was that Winterkorn had failed to act in a responsible manner in the period following what was described as a crisis conference on July 27, 2015, in which Winterkorn had the information on "the use of inadmissible software functions in 2.0-liter vehicles, that were sold in the North American market in the years between 2009 to 2015."

VW said its supervisory board had found that Stadler had not investigated from September 2016 whether Audi motors built into Volkswagen, Porsche and Audi model vehicles in the EU included the illicit software.

Winterkorn and four other current and former executives are due to be tried on charges of organized commercial fraud and serious tax evasion. A district court recently postponed the start of the trial due to the coronavirus pandemic. A new trial date was set on Wednesday, for September 16. The first senior executive to go on trial over the scandal was Stadler, whose fraud proceedings opened in Munich last year.

lc/aw (Reuters, AFP, dpa)