Germany to Continue Probing Winterkorn and VW, but Does That Mean Anything?


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Germany intends to stay on ex-Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn after news broke Thursday that the former top executive faces criminal charges in the United States.

The indictment, filed under seal in March, was opened in a U.S. District Court in Detroit on Thursday during VW’s annual meeting in Germany. “If you try to deceive the United States, then you will pay a heavy price,” said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “Volkswagen’s scheme to cheat its legal requirements went all the way to the top of the company.”

However, the burden of tangible justice will likely fall on Europe. Germany doesn’t make a habit of extraditing citizens for trial, and it’s still conducting its own investigation into VW Group’s emissions-cheating scandal — which it intends to continue.

“Our investigation strategy does not change just because the Americans have filed charges against Winterkorn,” a spokesman for the prosecutors’ office of Brunswick said on Friday. You’ll have to excuse us for not having much faith Germany’s justice system, as its current strategy appears to involve conducting as many raids as humanly possible without any results. 

The only exception was the arrest of Joerg Kerner, an engineer in charge of Porsche’s engine division who was working at Audi during the initial scandal, in April of this year. But Kerner was only detained because authorities viewed him as a flight risk. As of this writing, he hasn’t officially been charged with anything.

From what we know, German prosecutors are interested in a handful of VW Group executives, though none have come up on any charges. Whether or not Germany feels like a lengthy jail sentence is the right way to handle corporate crime, the fact remains that it has raided Audi, Porsche, and VW numerous times with little to show for it. The scandal broke nearly three years ago.

Meanwhile, Winterkorn is the ninth person to face criminal charges in the U.S. relating to the emissions-cheating scandal. Two pleaded guilty and have since been sentenced.

Volkswagen itself seems to have recovered, though. With Herbert Diess replacing Matthias Müller — who is now under investigation — as CEO, the company appears to have removed most of the high-profile suspects from its ranks. It also reported a 28 percent jump in first-quarter operating profits this year. Even VW’s share price has largely rebounded from its scandal-related crash. While still below its pre-dieselgate high, it’s healthy enough to presume VW is out of any immediate danger.

We’ll have to wait and see if Germany bothers to attempt to place Winterkorn, or anyone else, in front of a judge. The E.U. has pressed the nation for stricter enforcement of automotive regulations, but nobody in Europe seems all that hungry for blood. Regardless, Diess has promised to step up Volkswagen’s integrity and compliance efforts to ensure something like the emissions fiasco never happens again.

“Volkswagen has to become more honest, more open and more truthful,” Diess told shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting in Berlin. “Besides abiding by the rules and obeying the law, the key here is always ethics — a clear moral compass.”

[Source: Automotive News]