German Prosecutors Open Investigation Into VW's Winterkorn

German Prosecutors Probe Former VW CEO Winterkorn
  • Volkswagen filed general criminal complaint on test cheating
  • German government `working hard to contain' damage of scandal

Prosecutors in Germany have opened a criminal probe into former Volkswagen AG Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn after the manufacturer admitted it cheated on emissions tests in some of its diesel cars.

The probe was opened after Volkswagen and others filed complaints calling for a criminal investigation into whether fraudulent measures were taken to sell cars that didn’t meet emissions standards and, if so, who was responsible, prosecutors in Braunschweig, Germany, said in a statement on Monday. Eric Felber, a spokesman for Volkswagen, declined to comment, adding that the company generally supports investigations into the scandal.

The Volkswagen complaint didn’t name Winterkorn, and the carmaker’s supervisory board said last week that it had concluded Winterkorn “had no knowledge” of emissions-test data manipulation. The CEO said when he resigned Wednesday that he was “not aware of any wrongdoing on my part.”

Martin Winterkorn
Martin Winterkorn
Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

Winterkorn stepped down amid a scandal that has wiped 27 billion euros ($30.3 billion) from Volkswagen’s market value. Switzerland banned sales of affected VW models on Friday, while German regulators said the Wolfsburg-based carmaker needs by Oct. 7 to provide a plan for some 2.8 million cars in the country to standards or risk them being pulled off the road.

The German government is “working hard to contain the damage,” Peter Altmaier, chief of staff to Chancellor Angela Merkel, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Berlin. The government is keen to ensure that the reputation of German-made cars in general is “not damaged.”

Winterkorn Replaced

Winterkorn was replaced on Friday by Matthias Mueller, the head of Volkswagen’s Porsche car brand. Winterkorn remains head of Porsche Automobil Holding SE, however, which owns 52.2 percent of Volkswagen’s voting stock. He’s also still chairman of VW’s publicly traded Audi AG unit as well as the group’s truck holding company, among other positions.

“Obviously he has to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, but he’ll have to consider whether it’s right for him to stay in those positions while the probe is ongoing,” said Peter Binning, a London-based criminal defense lawyer at Corker Binning.

Volkswagen fell 7.5 percent to 99.30 at the close in Frankfurt, taking its drop since the diesel cheating became public on Sept. 18 to 39 percent.

Software that enabled engines to meet emissions standards only during official tests was installed in some 11 million vehicles, including those from the Seat and Skoda brands as well as the VW nameplate.

The Audi luxury division disclosed Monday that 2.1 million of its diesel-powered cars were affected, including best-sellers such as the A4 sedan and Q5 sport utility vehicle. About 1.2 million of Skoda’s autos are involved, though spokesman Guillaume Jolit said the marque can’t yet provide a breakdown of models. Laure Vinagre Garcia at Seat said the Spanish unit is still gathering information.