Sunday

21st Jul 2019

Former VW boss can avoid US jail by staying in Germany

  • Martin Winterkorn, CEO of Volkswagen Group at the time, showing a car to German chancellor Angela Merkel in July 2014 (Photo: Bundesregierung/Kugler)

Details emerged on Thursday (3 May) about the US indictment against former CEO of Volkswagen Group (VW), Martin Winterkorn, over the diesel emissions fraud.

However, Winterkorn can escape facing trial in person by just remaining in his home country of Germany.

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The unsealed indictment from a United States district court in Michigan – the state where VW's local engineering and environmental office was located – contained some damning accusations.

It said that Winterkorn conspired with other VW employees to defraud the United States, commit wire fraud, and violate the country's Clean Air Act.

The purpose of the wire fraud reportedly committed by Winterkorn and others was "to unlawfully enrich VW and themselves".

The fraud, uncovered in September 2015, involved VW engineers designing car models in such a way that they would fool the official emissions tests. The diesel cars were in fact much dirtier when being used on the road than when tested in the laboratory.

Winterkorn is accused of approving continued concealment of the cheating software, even after US authorities began their investigation.

"If you try to deceive the United States, then you will pay a heavy price," said US attorney general Jeff Sessions in a statement on Thursday.

"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," he noted.

Sessions thanked, among others, "partners … in Germany for their hard work on this important case", but it remains to be seen to what extent Germany will continue to cooperate.

Germany's constitution specifically states that no German national will be extradited to a non-EU country.

However, there is also the possibility that Winterkorn makes a mistake - like a former VW engineer currently serving a seven-year jail sentence in the US.

Oliver Schmidt was another suspect in the Dieselgate scandal, who was arrested in January 2017 while travelling via Florida.

The public prosecutor of Braunschweig, in Germany, meanwhile is also still investigating the scandal.

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The consumer commission says VW misled its Australian customers and should face a "significant penalty", but the carmaker says the legal case will provide no benefit to consumers.

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EU states ought to undergo a yearly "Rule of Law Review Cycle" to help stop countries such as Hungary, Poland, and Romania from backsliding on EU norms, the European Commission has said.

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German media outlet Correctiv, along with other newsrooms, have revealed how criminals annually cheat EU states out of billions in VAT fraud. The EU Commission says solutions exist - but member states refuse to budge on tax unanimity.

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