Almost five years after the emissions scandal at Volkswagen was exposed, the Braunschweig regional court has approved fraud charges against ex-CEO Martin Winterkorn. The responsible chamber announced this on Wednesday. Winterkorn has to face the allegations in a public process – when the process begins is still open.
Investigators had indicted the 73-year-old manager in April 2019 because of his role in the diesel scandal. It concerns allegations of serious fraud and violation of the law against unfair competition in connection with manipulation of the emissions values of millions of vehicles.
As the court announced on Wednesday, the chamber sees a sufficient suspicion in Winterkorn that the manager could be convicted of commercial and gang fraud. That is why the opening of the main proceedings was allowed.
The buyers of certain vehicles from the VW group were deceived about the condition of the cars and especially the so-called shut-off device in the engine control software. As a result, compliance with nitrogen oxide emissions was only guaranteed on the test stand, but not in normal operation. The buyers would have suffered financial loss as a result, it said in a statement from the regional court.
A commercial criminal chamber of three judges examined whether there was sufficient suspicion. During the past few months, the court is said to have had some doubts about the arguments of the Braunschweig public prosecutor’s office. In autumn, Judge Christian Schütz asked the prosecutors for further explanations.
According to reports, the court requested, among other things, an expert opinion on the question of whether the software of the control units of the diesel vehicles in question actually contained an illegal program of deception.
Observers had actually expected that the trial against Winterkorn and other executives would have opened at the beginning of this year. In January, however, the public prosecutor’s office apparently had to rework: According to business insider information, some starting points in the indictment are said to be “not expedient”, and a “sufficient suspicion” should not have been in sight. Accordingly, it was about the allegation of criminal advertising for manipulated diesel cars in the USA – and also the allegation of fraud because of the continued sale of such vehicles. However, the court now admitted the application.
In September 2015, Volkswagen admitted tampering with the emission levels of diesel cars after examinations by authorities and research by researchers in the USA. The software of certain engines was set in such a way that significantly more toxic nitrogen oxides (NOx) were emitted in actual operation on the road than in tests.