Former Volkswagen CEO dragged into Dieselgate investigation (again)

January 27, 2017

Remember when Volkswagen's board chairman, Hans Dieter Poetsch, tried to assure the world that Dieselgate's misdeeds were the work of a small group of employees, mostly lower-level?

Remember when Volkswagen's former U.S. chief, Michael Horn, promised that the automaker's 11 million illegally rigged diesels didn't "reflect our values or who we are as a company"?

As it turns out, those statements may have been as misleading as the software the company developed to cheat on emissions tests. Two weeks ago, prosecutors indicted six of the company's executives, and now, German prosecutors have confirmed that former Volkswagen CEO, Martin Winterkorn, is under investigation for fraud related to the scandal. 

It's the second probe involving Winterkorn, and like the previous one, it centers on the question of when Winterkorn first learned of the defeat devices. 

Initially, Volkswagen said that its higher-ups weren't told about the issue until late August of 2015, a few weeks before the scandal broke in September. Now, there appears to be some question as to whether those statements are accurate. 

Faith in Winterkorn's initial statements about the matter isn't bolstered by a recent statement from his lawyer, Felix Doerr. In response to queries about the new probe, Doerr replied that "For now, Dr. Winterkorn is sticking with the statement he made before a German parliamentary committee of inquiry (into the scandal) on Jan. 19". How long is "for now"? We'll have to wait and see.

Investigators want to know when Winterkorn first learned of the diesel problem because if he knew of it early and said nothing, he could be seen as abetting the illegal activities of Volkswagen staff. The investors suing Volkswagen want answers, too: they argue that Winterkorn should've revealed the issue sooner, giving them time to adjust their portfolios before Volkswagen stock took a nosedive.

Winterkorn is among the highest-profile folks to be dragged into the Dieselgate probe, but he's far from alone. In only the past week, the number of people under investigation has jumped from 21 to 37--and we wouldn't be surprised if it climbed much, much higher.

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