U.S. charges former Volkswagen CEO in emissions scandal

Jeannie Matthews
May 4, 2018

In addition to conspiracy and wire fraud, Winterkorn is also charged with the violation of the Clean Air Act, a law that aims to control air pollution.

"The indictment of Winterkorn alleges that he was informed of VW's diesel emissions cheating in May 2014 and again in July 2015", the Justice Department said in a statement issued today. "These are serious allegations, and we will prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law", he noted.

A spokesperson for the US Attorney's office in Detroit said Mr Winterkorn was not in custody.

Winterkorn may never actually face the music in the USA because Germany typically does not extradite its citizens for trials outside of the European Union.

The defeat devices consisted of software created to recognize whether a vehicle was undergoing standard USA emissions testing on a dynamometer, altering emissions of harmful nitrogen oxide emissions during the tests.

The company itself pleaded guilty to three criminal charges in January past year, and paid fines totalling $US4.3 billion.

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The 70-year-old will be the highest-ranking Volkswagen executive to face charges over Dieselgate. One Italian citizen, a former Audi manager, is in Germany awaiting extradition.

According to the indictment, Winterkorn was briefed in 2015 about the situation, at which time he allegedly gave the green light to continued concealment of the vehicles' defeat devices, which were used to bypass federal emissions regulations.

According to Reuters, the charges against Winterkorn were filed secretly in March and only became public on Thursday. The study examined driving emissions from two diesel-powered Volkswagen vehicles and results showed both had significantly elevated levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions.

VW management quickly learned of the results of the study and discussed potential consequences flowing from the revelations. Upon learning of the facts revealed by the study and the risks facing the company, Gottweis remarked that he needed to speak with Winterkorn immediately. Gottweis's memorandum was then attached to a cover note authored by a then-senior VW executive, and addressed to Winterkorn. Winterkorn has said he did not learn of the cheating until late August 2015.

Eight other individuals have now been charged by USA authorities in the scandal. 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. Documents later surfaced tying several executives to statements imploring colleagues to "come up with the story please!" when regulators started asking questions. A PowerPoint presentation was allegedly created, detailing exactly how VW was deceiving regulators "including precisely what information had been disclosed to USA regulators and what information had not yet been disclosed".

And following the meeting, Winterkorn authorized the company to continue lying to American authorities. About 11 million Volkswagen vehicles, including half a million in America, were secretly and deliberately equipped with "defeat devices" that allowed them to cheat diesel emissions tests.

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