VW former CEO Martin Winterkorn charged with fraud in diesel scandal

Martin Winterkorn former chairman of German car maker Volkswagen.Tobias Schwarz

Martin Winterkorn former chairman of German car maker Volkswagen.Tobias Schwarz

The former chief executive of the carmaker Volkswagen has been charged in Germany over the diesel emissions scandal.

The prosecutors office in the German city of Braunschweig said in a statement that Winterkorn and four other managers faced charges.

The 71-year-old was charged with conspiracy by the U.S. Department of Justice in May 2018 but since he resides in Germany, which doesn't normally extradite its citizens, he's been able to avoid questioning by officials.

Volkswagen admitted in September 2015 to having used illegal engine control software to cheat US pollution tests, triggering a global backlash against diesel and costing the carmaker 29 billion euros so far ($33 billion). Winterkorn, 71, remains in Germany, which does not typically extradite its citizens for prosecution in US courts. The prosecutors are also seeking to confiscate between €300,000 and €11m in bonus payments, which were allegedly boosted by the emissions fraud.

However, prosecutors said Winterkorn approved the expenditure of €23m (£20m) on a "useless" software update which was created to continue obscuring the real reason for the increased levels of pollutants from its cars in real-world conditions. Prosecutors said the bonuses in question ranged from around 300,000 euros to 11 million euros ($340,000 to $12.45 million).

"Former Chief Executive Dr. Martin Winterkorn is being charged with a particularly serious case of fraud, a violation of the law against unfair competition and breach of fiduciary trust", the prosecutors' office said in a statement. They face between six months and 10 years in prison if found guilty.

That date was more than a year before VW publicly admitted to fitting 11 million vehicles with software to make them appear less polluting in the lab than in real driving conditions.

The prosecutors' move is one of a number of legal proceedings unleased by the scandal. He was arrested when attempting to return to Germany following a family holiday in Florida.

The automaker's former boss claims that he was unaware of the issue until shortly before it became public.

The prosecutors said they are still investigating 36 more suspects. VW also faces a group litigation from British owners of its vehicles over alleged false misrepresentation of the cars' emissions.

In a statement Felix Dörr, Winterkorn's lawyer, said the prosecutors had not given the defence enough time to read and comment on new evidence presented in the indictment.

A Volkswagen spokesman said the company would not comment on investigations against individuals.

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