Charge against ex-VW boss Winter grain: End of individual perpetrator legend

Long had VW claimed that the diesel affair was only the work of some engineers. Now the former CEO Martin Winterkorn has been charged - and the Group threatens to lose its credibility.

When the diesel fraud in September 2015 flew open, the Volkswagen Group made a legend rightly.

Accordingly, the board was completely surprised by the manipulation. Until then, none of the top executives had any knowledge of the illegal defeat devices, which ensured that millions of VW, Audi and Porsche vehicles were clean only on the test bench, in real operation on the road, however, a multiple of the permissible nitrogen oxide levels (NOx ) eject. One of the biggest fraud cases in recent German economic history, according to the VW version, was initiated and carried out only by a small group of engine specialists.

This version is no longer to hold at the latest now.

The prosecutor Braunschweig has this morning brought charges against Martin Winterkorn - the man who has belonged to the group since the early eighties and had led him for eight years. Alongside the patriarch Ferdinand Piëch, he is one of the personalities that made the biggest impression on VW .

In Winterkorn's era, Volkswagen developed into the world's largest automaker. The prosecutors are convinced that the diesel fraud could not have happened without the knowledge of this man, who was considered to be particularly tech-savvy and meticulous. They accuse Winterkorn of having committed a particularly serious case of fraud, a violation of the law against unfair competition and unfaithfulness. Winterkorn had always denied any accusation against him.

However, there is a document that prosecutors are now using against him. It dates from the end of May 2014. At that time, the head of product safety warned the management in Wolfsburg before investigations by the US Environmental Protection Agency: exhaust emissions tests had been carried out, the authorities had detected significant violations of legal limits, up to a factor of 35.

Did the managers focus on their bonuses?

The VW manager sounded the alarm. "A sound explanation for the dramatically increased NOx emissions can not be given to the authorities," the letter said. "It is likely that the authorities will investigate the VW systems to see if Volkswagen has implemented a test recognition in the engine control software (so-called defeat device)." Problematic for Winterkorn: The sensitive document should have been submitted to him in a folder, the so-called "weekend post", on 25 May 2014.

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Charge in the exhaust gas scandal: The case of Martin Winterkorn

As a result, prosecutors argue, Winterkorn should have taken the initiative immediately. But obviously he did not.

According to the prosecutor, he has failed to "inform the authorities in the US and Europe to the knowledge of illegal manipulation of diesel engines". And to inform its customers about the fraud.

The investigators cite the motive, Winterkorn and the four co-accused would have wanted to increase sales - and thus their bonus payments. According to the prosecutors threaten the accused for up to ten years in prison.

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And how does the VW Group react? He continues his theory that behind the diesel scandal is no systemic failure of a whole company. Guilt are individual. The group spoke of "individual investigations against individuals". Volkswagen has already paid a billion-dollar fine. Thus, the criminal investigation against the group were done.

Whether the company gets away with it, is questionable. Lawyers of clients and shareholders have been waiting for a member of the former board to be charged. Around the globe, they have sued the corporation, partly on billions of fines. With the indictment of the prosecutor Braunschweig in the back, the plaintiffs can now claim that the fraud was at least supported by the highest body. Even if they do not get along with their demands: The image damage for VW is immense. The credibility of the German flagship concern will suffer international damage, if his longtime boss actually has to go to the dock.

Winterkorn is not yet convicted, for him the presumption of innocence continues to apply. First, the district court of Brunswick must allow the indictment. After that, it would be a process that could take years. The case is complicated. But for Volkswagen that is no comfort. With its tactic of admitting only the bare necessities for years, the group has already lost its trust: in the eyes of the judiciary, in politics - and in the customer.

ref: spiegel