Germans to investigate VW's former boss on fraud charges

29. September 2015 zur Übersicht

Article by Tony Paterson, published in THE INDEPENDENT on 29.9.2015

The emissions scandal roars on as Audi admits 2 million cars had similar software

Volkswagen's diesel emissions scandal deepened further yesterday as prosecutors announced they were investigating the company's former boss Martin Winterkorn on fraud charges, and VW's subsidiary Audi revealed that exhaust tests on 2.1 million of its vehicles had also been manipulated.

State prosecutors in the German city of Braunschweig said they were investigating 68-year-old Mr Winterkorn, who resigned over the scandal last Wednesday, and other as yet unnamed VW senior executives on charges that they had acted fraudulently by selling vehicles with manipulated emissions results.

A prosecutors' statement said the investigation was intended to "identify those responsible" for the emissions scandal which VW has admitted affects some 11 million of its vehicles worldwide.

Mr Winterkorn insisted prior to his resignation that he had "no knowledge" of the scandal. However, if convicted he could face a heavy fine or be jailed for a maximum of five years under German law.

VW's board sacked a further four top executives, including Audi development boss Ulrich Hackenberg last week. On Friday the company appointed Porsche boss Matthias Müller as Mr Winterkorn's successor.

The scandal erupted a fortnight ago after the United States Environmental Protection Agency produced evidence which showed that VW computer software manipulated diesel car emission results and that during normal road use the emissions were up to six times higher than those shown on testing.

German business commentators said yesterday that the prosecutors' investigation into Mr Winterkorn had been expected and could take years to complete. They drew comparisons with the bribery and corruption scandal which engulfed the German electronics giant Siemens in 2006, and resulted in a €250,000 fine for its former boss Heinrich von Pierer. The Siemens investigation took three and a half years to complete.

Volkswagen's increasingly dire predicament was compounded yesterday as its subsidiary, Audi, was drawn into the scandal. The car maker said that 2.1 million of its vehicles worldwide had been subjected to bogus emission testing procedures. The figure included some 1.42 million Audis in western Europe equipped with turbo-diesel engines. Audi said among the cars affected were the Audi A1, A3, A4 and A6 models. The VW subsidiaries Skoda and Seat have also been hit by the emissions scandal.

Yesterday VW announced a cost-free recall of thousands of its affected vehicles. However the move followed disclosure at the weekend that the car giant was warned as early as 2007 that the on-board software it had installed in its vehicles for emissions testing was potentially illegal, but had failed to act on the information.

German media reports said the warnings had come from the makers of the software at the centre of the scandal, the vehicle equipment suppliers Bosch, in 2007 and from one of VW's own technicians in 2011. Both warnings that the software was illegal if used in the way intended by VW, were said to have been contained in an internal VW report which was supplied to the company board last Friday. VW has yet to respond to the allegations.

There were further charges yesterday that Chancellor Angela Merkel's government had failed to curb excessive car emissions levels. The German Green Euro MP Michael Cramer said that it was well known that emissions were more than six times higher on the road than they were under testing: "The government has always had the car industry in mind - not the wellbeing of citizens, nor their health and certainly not environmental protection," he told Berlin's Info Radio.