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Ex-VW CEO Winterkorn indicted for emissions cheating

The DOJ unsealed an indictment Thursday charging the former head of Germany’s biggest company with helping hide emissions cheating software used to deceive U.S. regulators and car buyers.

Martin Winterkorn, 70, Volkswagen’s former chief executive, was charged in a sixteen-count indictment with conspiracy and wire fraud.

The superseding indictment (pdf) unsealed Thursday was issued by a federal grand jury in Michigan.

Winterkorn served as Volkswagen’s CEO from 2007 to 2015.

He’s believed to be living in Germany.

Winterkorn resigned from Volkswagen in September 2015. He first denied but later admitted knowing the company had created and installed software to cheat diesel emissions tests.

Volkswagon pleaded guilty in 2017 to three felony counts. It paid a $2.8 billion criminal penalty for cheating on federal and state emissions tests and lying to regulators. The cheating related to 590,000 diesel vehicles Volkswagen sold in the United States.

VW also settled civil claims for $1.5 billion brought by the EPA for import violations and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection for customs fraud.

The company admitted it lied about emissions tests for about 11 million diesel vehicles world wide.

Earlier in 2017, Volkswagen agreed to spend up to $14.7 billion to resolve other federal and California civil allegations. The company said it would fix the vehicles or buy them back.

According to the indictment unsealed Thursday, other VW employees told Winterkorn in May 2014 and July 2015 about the plan to cheat on U.S. diesel emissions tests. He allegedly didn’t stop the cheating and helped conceal it.

The indictment was first filed in March but kept under seal to protect the DOJ’s ongoing investigation.

Winterkorn faces up to five years in prison on the conspiracy count and up to 20 years in jail on each of three wire fraud counts.

The DOJ said Thursday it has now indicted nine individuals in the case. 

Two former VW engineers, Oliver Schmidt, 48, and James Liang, 63, both German citizens, pleaded guilty to conspiracy.

Liang’s plea was in 2016 and Schmidt’s in 2017.

Schmidt led Volkswagen’s regulatory compliance office in the United States from 2014 to March 2015.

He’s serving an 84-month prison sentence and Liang is serving a 40-month sentence.

Five other former VW executives and senior managers were indicted in January 2017 but are still at large, the DOJ said Thursday.

All are believed to be German citizens living in Germany. 

In July 2017, the DOJ also charged the former manager of VW’s subsidiary, Audi AG.

Giovanni Pamio, 61, an Italian citizen, is in Germany pending extradition, the DOJ said Thursday.


Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog.

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