Former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn has been charged by U.S. prosecutors with conspiracy and wire fraud, according to an indictment that was unsealed in a Michigan federal court on Thursday. For those of you who have been following the Dieselgate scandal from the beginning, this has been a long time coming.
Winterkorn has been at the epicenter of the emissions-cheating issue since before VW’s earliest admissions and was swiftly removed from his post as the automotive group’s chief executive in 2015. He also had a major falling out with ex-supervisory board chairman Ferdinand Piëch after being confronted on the emissions issue during the Geneva Motor Show.
The two had previously held a very close relationship but a power struggle within the organization appeared to have been brewing for quite some time, making the scandal an important turning point. Piëch became vaguely accusatory of Winterkorn in the aftermath and eventually cut ties with the company and, by extension, his family. All the while Winterkorn was under investigation in both the United States and Germany.
According to Bloomberg, the charges against him were filed covertly in Detroit on March 14th and were unsealed on Thursday. In addition to the aforementioned charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States, Winterkorn has also been faulted with violating the Clean Air Act.
The Winterkorn indictment focuses on the July 27, 2015, meeting in Wolfsburg, where Winterkorn and several other senior leaders were briefed about the diesel irregularities and how U.S. regulators were threatening to hold up certifying 2016 models. Winterkorn at that meeting “approved the continued concealment of the cheating software from U.S. regulators,” according to the indictment.
The wire fraud relates to August 2015 emails that Winterkorn was copied on regarding VW’s attempts to deceive U.S. regulators through Oliver Schmidt, VW’s compliance liaison, according to prosecutors. Schmidt pleaded guilty in 2017 and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
“The indictment unsealed today alleges that Volkswagen’s scheme to cheat its legal requirements went all the way to the top of the company,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “These are serious allegations, and we will prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law.”
It’s unlikely he’ll ever be tried within the United States, however. Schmidt, who claimed to have been misused by the company, was only caught and sentenced because he was in Florida. Winterkorn (pictured below, standing suspiciously close to Yoko Ono) will undoubtedly stay in Europe to avoid facing the courts and Germany is unlikely to extradite him. While he’s still under investigation within his home country, no formal charges have been made.
[Images: Volkswagen AG]