Criminal case opened against former VW CEO in pollution scandal

When it rains it pours, or so the saying goes. Perhaps something more apt would be that cheaters never prosper. Either way things aren’t looking up for the VW Group nor any of its top brass, as German authorities announced that they’ve opened a criminal case against the former CEO Martin Winterkorn – revolving around fraudulent sales of vehicles with manipulated emissions data. Mr Winterkorn claims to have been “not aware” of doing anything wrong. He also apologised to VW customers the world over. It might be PR 101 tactics, but at the end of the day VW were caught blatantly cheating the system; and personally I don’t believe the apology is worth the paper on which it was written. – Miles Downard

Frankfurt, Germany | AFP 

Volkswagen Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn stands at the Volkswagen booth at the world's largest industrial technology fair, the Hannover Messe, in Hanover, in this file picture taken April 13, 2015. Winterkorn resigned on September 23, 2015, taking responsibility for the German carmaker's rigging of U.S. emissions tests. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay/Files
Volkswagen Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn stands at the Volkswagen booth at the world’s largest industrial technology fair, the Hannover Messe, in Hanover, in this file picture taken April 13, 2015. Winterkorn resigned on September 23, 2015, taking responsibility for the German carmaker’s rigging of U.S. emissions tests. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay/Files

German prosecutors announced Monday they have opened a criminal investigation into Volkswagen’s former chief executive Martin Winterkorn over a worldwide pollution cheating scandal.

Winterkorn resigned in the mist of global outrage after Volkswagen revealed that 11 million of its diesel vehicles are equipped with devices that fool official pollution tests.

In his resignation statement Wednesday, the 68-year-old German car boss, a renowned perfectionist in the industry, said he “not aware” of having done anything wrong.

“Following a number of legal suits, the public prosecutors in Brunswick have opened an investigation against Martin Winterkorn, the former chief executive of Volkswagen,” the German prosecutors said in a statement.

“The investigation will focus on the allegation of fraud by selling vehicles with manipulated emission values,” it added.

“The aim of the investigation is to clarify the chain of responsibility,” it added.

The German government said it had given Volkswagen until October 7 to submit measures and a timetable to fix vehicles that have been fitted with the cheating software, a ministry spokesman said.

The devices can switch on pollution controls when they detect the car is undergoing testing. They then switch off the controls when the car is on the road, allowing it to spew out harmful levels of emissions.

The Federal Motor Transport Authority said it  had asked “Volkswagen to submit binding measures and a timetable on when a technical solution on the affected cars can be implemented.”

The authority gave the company a deadline of October 7 to submit the plan, Transport Ministry spokesman Martin Susteck told a regular government news briefing.

Winterkorn has been replaced as chief executive of the Volkswagen group by Matthias Mueller, head of VW’s luxury sports car brand Porsche.

According to German media reports at the weekend, Volkswagen ignored warnings from staff and a supplier years ago that the emission test rigging software was illegal.

The spiralling scandal has tarnished VW’s name, left it exposed to up to 18 billion dollars (16 billion euros) in US fines, and wiped a third off its stock market value in a week.

Earlier on Monday, Volkswagen’s top-of-the-range automaker Audi said that 2.1 million of its diesel cars worldwide are fitted with the so-called defeat devices.

Some 577,000 vehicles were affected in Germany alone and another 13,000 in the United States, an Audi spokesman said.

In western Europe as a whole, the number was 1.42 million.

The models concerned were the A1, A3, A4, A6, Q3, Q5 and also the TT, the spokesman said.

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