German prosecutors announced Thursday they have filed fraud charges against three former board members at Audi as well as a retired manager over the “dieselgate” scandal.
“The four defendants are accused of fraud, indirect false certification and criminal advertising,” Munich prosecutors said in a statement.
The charges come around a year after former boss of the car manufacturer Rupert Stadler was charged separately with fraud. He is due to appear in court from September 30.
The “dieselgate” scandal emerged in 2015 when it became apparent that the German automotive giant Volkswagen had manipulated millions of cars worldwide to allow them to pass emissions test.
Audi is a member of the Volkswagen group. Volkswagen repaid €830 million ($983 million) to German consumers earlier this year before a top German court ruled in May that they had knowingly deceived their customers.
Read more: Opinion: A big defeat for Volkswagen
The three board members are charged with not acting on the malpractice between 2013 and 2015 despite knowing about it. The retired manager is accused of knowingly selling Audis, Porsches and Volkswagens with falsified emissions certification.
The Munich-based court will now decided whether the charges will be brought to trial.
The case of CEO Stadler and his associates is expected to last until 2022 and involve over 200 days in court to work through the charges.
The scandal has dogged Volkswagen since 2015 and may see millions more euros in damages paid out. The group reported losses of €1.4 billion in the first half of 2020 with sales down because of the coronavirus pandemic.
About two weeks after Volkswagen admitted behind closed doors to US environmental regulators that it had installed cheating software in some 11 million of its diesel vehicles worldwide, the Environmental Protection Agency shared that information with the public. It was September 18, 2015. The ensuing crisis would eventually take a few unexpected turns.
Volkswagen’s then-CEO Martin Winterkorn (above) had little choice but to step down several days after news of the scandal broke. In September 2015, he tendered his resignation, but retained his other posts within the Volkswagen Group. Winterkorn’s successor was Matthias Müller. Until taking the reins at VW, Müller had been the chairman at Porsche, a VW subsidiary.
Regulators in the US weren’t the only ones investigating VW. Authorities in Lower Saxony, the German state in which VW is based, were also scrutinizing the company. On October 8 2015, state prosecutors raided VW’s headquarters along with several other corporate locations.
On January 4, 2016, the US government filed a lawsuit against VW in Detroit, accusing the German automaker of fraud and violations of American climate protection regulations. The lawsuit sought up to $46 billion for violations of the Clean Air Act.
In March 2016, the head of VW in the US, Michael Horn, resigned. In the initial days and weeks after the scandal broke, he was the one US authorities turned to for information. He issued an official apology on behalf of the automaker, asking for the public’s forgiveness.
On October 25 2016, a US judge approved a final settlement that would have VW pay $15.3 billion. In addition, affected cars would be retrofitted with better, non-deceptive hardware and software, or else VW would buy them back completely from customers.
When dieselgate first emerged in 2015, analysts said it was likely other car makers were also cheating tests. But it wasn’t until 2017 that other companies were targeted in probes. In July, German authorities launched investigations into luxury car makers Porsche and Daimler for allegedly cheating emissions tests. Others, such as Audi and Chrysler, have also been hit by similar allegations.
Despite dieselgate, VW has managed to keep the emissions scandal from utterly tarnishing its image. According to several polls, between 55 to 67 percent of Germans continue to trust the automaker. In the US, polls show that roughly 50 percent still believe the German company produces worthwhile vehicles.
In late January, however, VW suffered another heavy blow over reports that the company experimented on monkeys and made the animals inhale diesel fumes. To make matters worse, a separate experiment that had humans inhale relatively harmless nitrogen dioxide was revealed at the same time. Some media wrongly interpreted this to mean humans were also inhaling toxic fumes.
Years after the scandal that caused Volkswagen to pay CAN$2.4 billion (US$1.83 billion), a court in Toronto order a further fine of CAN$196.5 million. Volkswagen pleaded guilty of violating in environmental laws. Prosecutor Tom Lemon noted that the fine was “26 times the highest fine ever for a Canadian environmental offence.”
ed/aw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)