Ex-Volkswagen CEO charged with fraud over diesel emissions scandal

Martin Winterkorn

Martin Winterkorn

The US government has charged Martin Winterkorn, the former chief executive officer of Volkswagen, with fraud in the company's diesel emissions-cheating scandal.

The U.S. Department of Justice says Winterkorn has been charged with four counts of violating federal law. But the indictment alleges Winterkorn was informed of Volkswagen's diesel emissions cheating in May 2014 and in July 2015 and he agreed with other senior Volkswagen executives "to continue to perpetrate the fraud and deceive U.S. regulators", prosecutors said. According to the indictment, Winterkorn was briefed on both the emissions issue and how U.S. regulators were threatening to delay certifying 2016 cars for sale at a July meeting in Wolfsburg, Germany, where the company is based. The former CEO is also under investigation by German authorities. Gottweis' memorandum and a cover note, authored by an unnamed senior VW executive, were then sent to Winterkorn. Volkswagen continued to deny the existence of defeat devices until the summer of 2015.

The threat to stop US sales reportedly sent Volkswagen into panic mode and they held a "damage table meeting" on July 27th, 2015 in Wolfsburg, Germany.

Volkswagen has been desperate to move on from the emissions scandal, vowing to spend billions on a number of new electric vehicles as it has seen United States sales rebound, but the indictment reopens the question of whether other senior executives knew about the scandal, threatening to prolong the crisis. The meeting was reportedly attended by a number of senior Volkswagen executives including Winterkorn.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement the charges allege "Volkswagen's scheme to cheat its legal requirements went all the way to the top of the company".

"Volkswagen deceived American regulators and defrauded American consumers for years", U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said.

Mr Winterkorn, who resigned from the company as a storm erupted over the company's behaviour in September 2015, has always maintained he knew nothing about software created to cheat emissions tests.

Prosecutors say Winterkorn knew of the company's emissions cheating as early as May 2014 but chose to continue with the fraud, the Justice Department said in a statement.

In the aftermath of revelations about Volkswagen's emissions test cheating, Volkswagen publicly stated that the illegal software had been placed on the cars by "rogue engineers" and that company executives were not involved or culpable.

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