Ex-Volkswagen CEO Charged with Conspiracy, Fraud in Dieselgate Scandal

By: Bridget Clerkin May 11, 2018
Legal ramifications for Volkswagen's Dieselgate scandal have reached the top with charges against former CEO and Board Chair Martin Winterkorn

Lying about how much pollution a car spews into the air is dirty business—and Volkswagen still hasn’t cleaned up the legal mess.

More than two years after millions of the company’s vehicles across the U.S. and Europe were caught “cheating” on their emissions tests, Volkswagen ex-CEO Martin Winterkorn has been indicted by the U.S. Justice Department for his role in the scandal.

In March, a Detroit federal grand jury charged the former chief executive with one count of conspiracy and three counts of fraud, a fact revealed earlier this week when the indictment was unsealed.

The formal charges run counter to Volkswagen’s longtime insistence that the company’s board members were not involved in the scandal. Instead, they build on an apparent expansive plot by the company to thwart emissions testers and, eventually, cover their tracks—the details of which are only now starting to publicly emerge.

Reports issued last year had Winterkorn presiding over a September 2015 meeting in which it was decided that another top VW executive, Oliver Schmidt, would lie to U.S. regulators about the existence of a program allowing the diesel-powered vehicles to read out much lower pollution levels than they were actually producing. (Winterkorn resigned that same month, while Schmidt was subsequently sentenced to 7 years in prison.)

The indictment also alleges that Winterkorn knew about the deceptive software by at least May 2014—more than a year before news of the scandal broke—and details the network of high-powered execs who handled the $30 billion issue.

That total will likely only increase after the most recent indictment, with a guilty verdict on a conspiracy charge adding significant ammunition to any future lawsuits filed against Volkswagen and potentially influencing an ongoing case in which the company’s stakeholders are asking for more than $10 billion in damages

Still, it remains unlikely Winterkorn will see his personal day in court, as he continues to live in Germany, which rarely extradites its citizens. However, the American charges could increase the chance of the ex-CEO being charged in his home country, as German officials are currently participating in a broader investigation of the scandal in Europe.

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