Photographer: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg

Qatar Said to Seek More Influential Role at Crisis-Stricken VW

  • VW panel composed of labor and company representatives
  • Qatar representative Al Baker openly critical of labor unions

Qatar, the third largest shareholder in Volkswagen AG, is exploring ways to expand its influence within the German carmaker, with a bigger role on the supervisory board as one possible scenario, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Among the possibilities being discussed is enlarging the so-called presidium of the supervisory board -- which makes up the inner circle of the most senior steering committee at the company -- to eight people from six and granting the Qatar representative a role for the first time, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private.

A spokesman for Volkswagen declined to comment on the deliberations, which were first reported by German newswire DPA. A final decision hasn’t been made yet as details of a possible agreement still need to be discussed, according to the people.

Qatar owns a 17 percent voting stake in Volkswagen, making it the third-biggest investor behind the Porsche Automobil Holding SE and the federal state of Lower Saxony, where the carmaker is based. Qatar’s representatives on the supervisory board are Akbar al Baker, the chief executive officer of national carrier Qatar Airways Ltd, and Hussain Al Abdulla, a board member at the Qatar Investment Authority. A spokesman for Qatar declined to comment.

Board Split

Supervisory boards in Germany are split evenly between major stakeholders and other company representatives on the one side and labor representatives on the other. In Volkswagen’s case, the board consists of 20 members, with labor playing a powerful role steering strategy, while Lower Saxony typically sides with the labor side on key decisions. Both Qatar and Lower Saxony have two seats on the supervisory board. But Qatar has no seat on the presidium, which comprises the top officials from the Porsche and Piech owner families, Lower Saxony and VW’s unions.

Al Baker has been openly critical of labor unions, ridiculing rival airlines in Europe for having to put up with strikes and other disputes that disrupt their operations. He’s declined to discuss his views in public on Volkswagen, where he gained a board seat last year after the annual general meeting.

Volkswagen has been beset for seven months by a diesel-emissions scandal after admitting to rigging engines on 11 million cars in Europe and the U.S. The company has switched its CEO and reported the biggest loss in its history last week after more than doubling provisions to pay for possible damages and repairs.

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