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Former VW CEO Winterkorn charged by US court

Ready, charge: Former VW Group CEO Martin Winterkorn has been formally charged by the US justice department over his involvement in the dieselgate emissions scandal.

Martin Winterkorn among six VW executives charged over Dieselgate scandal

Volkswagen logo4 May 2018

FORMER Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn has been formally charged by the United States justice department over his involvement and alleged cover-up of the VW dieselgate scandal in September 2015.

Mr Winterkorn, 70, was charged along with five other senior VW executives, who the justice department believe are responsible for the emissions cover up that led to the dieselgate scandal.

The charges levied against Mr Winterkorn include one count of conspiring with other executives to defraud the US and three counts of wire fraud in connection with the scheme.

Mr Winterkorn and the other five executives – Bernd Gottweis, Heinz-Jakob Neusser, Richard Dorenkamp, Jurgen Peter and Jens Hadler – currently reside in Germany, where they are protected from extradition by the German constitution.

Former Audi AG manager and Italian native Giovanni Pamio has also been charged by complaint and currently resides in Germany, pending extradition.

The indictment was filed in secret in March, but it was uncovered on Thursday due to the department’s belief that the withheld documents would no longer compromise the ongoing investigation.

Last year Volkswagen agreed to a $US4.3 billion ($A5.69b) payment to the US justice department, and in total will spend more than $US25 billion ($A33.09b) to cover claims from owners, environmental regulators, states and dealers.

It is unlikely that the charges against Mr Winterkorn will materialise given he is a German citizen and will not be forced to enter the US to face charges.

The indictment makes mention of a meeting in July 2015 attended by Mr Winterkorn and other executives, in which employees outlined how the company was deceiving regulators about the software in its diesel engines that were cheating emissions tests.

It also alleges that Mr Winterkorn authorised a plan to seek approval from US regulators for its 2016 diesel-powered models without disclosing the existence of the cheating software.

Last year, two German former VW engineers, Oliver Schmidt, 48, and James Liang, 63, pleaded guilty to participating in the cover up and are currently serving jail sentences of 84 months and 40 months, respectively.

US attorney general Jeff Sessions said that the justice department would attempt to fully prosecute Mr Winterkorn and the implicated executives.

“If you try to deceive the United States, then you will pay a heavy price,” he said.

“The indictment unsealed today alleges that Volkswagen’s scheme to cheat its legal requirements went all the way to the top of the company. These are serious allegations, and we will prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law.”

US attorney Matthew Schneider added: “Volkswagen deceived American regulators and defrauded American consumers for years.

“The fact that this criminal conduct was allegedly blessed at Volkswagen’s highest levels is appalling. The US attorney’s office is committed to pursuing accountability for corporate crimes, and the Winterkorn prosecution is a reflection of that commitment.”

Volkswagen admitted that it had cheated on diesel emissions testing for at least six years before being caught, and has since faced the mountainous task of fixing millions of vehicles worldwide fitted with the affected 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine.

Approximately 11 million VW Group vehicles across the VW, Audi, Skoda, Porsche and Seat brands have been implicated in the scandal, with around six million vehicles having been updated worldwide.

Roughly 100,000 affected vehicles are from Australia, including 61,189 Volkswagen passenger cars, 17,256 Volkswagen commercial vehicles, 5148 Skoda vehicles and 16,085 Audi cars.

Mr Winterkorn was appointed CEO of VW Group in January 2007, and remained in his position before resigning shortly after the dieselgate scandal came to light.

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