Ex-VW CEO 'knew' of emissions cheating before scandal broke: report

A German media report suggests ex-Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn knew of the dieselgate scandal well before it went public. Winterkorn maintained his innocence to a parliamentary inquiry last week.

The former of chief of Volkswagen's supervisory board has allegedly told German investigators that ex-CEO Martin Winterkorn knew of the firm's emissions cheating systemswell before the dieselgate scandal went public.

A report published Friday in German weekly "Der Spiegel" reported that former board chief Ferdinand Piech "has incriminated the group's former chief executive Martin Winterkorn with a detailed statement to prosecutors."

Winterkorn has maintained that he knew nothing of the dieselgate emissions scam before it became public in September 2015, comments he echoed before a parliamentary inquiry last week

The former chief still resigned days after VW admitted that it had installed so-called defeat devices in some 11 million diesel engines, making their cars appear less polluting than they were.

Winterkorn told the parliamentary committee that "total clarity was and is the order of the day," and that he was still trying to understand how the scandal could have happened.

However, Friday's report claims that Piech had told prosecutors in the German city of Brunswick that he himself had learned from an informant that US authorities were investigating VW's software manipulation systems as early as February 2015, and that US officials had even passed their findings on to the German car giant.

According to the "Spiegel" article, when Piech approached Winterkorn about the cheating system, the then-CEO reportedly assured him that no such document from the US authorities existed.

Winterkorn facing fresh inquiry

Last week, prosecutors in the German city of Brunswick announced they were investigating Winterkorn for fraud and market manipulation, saying they had "sufficient indications" that the former chief knew of the cheating. Authorities have not confirmed whether that investigation is linked to the "Spiegel" report and Piech's alleged testimony.

Felix Doerr, a lawyer for Winterkorn, told news agency AFP in a statement that his client was made aware that Piech had spoken to authorities a few days ago but did not know "the details of the statement."

"Mr Winterkorn will respond to the allegations against him, and therefore also this statement, as soon as the documents from the Brunswick prosecutor's office are made available to him," Doerr said.

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dm/gsw (AFP, dpa, Der Spiegel)

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The disaster unfolds

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 Sept. 18, 2015. The ensuing crisis would eventually take a few unexpected turns.

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The boss must go, long live the boss

Volkswagen's then-CEO Martin Winterkorn (above) had little choice but to step down several days after news of the scandal broke. In September, 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.

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Raiding headquarters

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, state prosecutors raided VW's headquarters along with several other corporate locations.

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Hell breaks loose

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.

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Quit or forced out?

In March, 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.

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Settlement

On October 25, 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.

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Imitators

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.

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Public still supportive

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.

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Fuming over monkeys

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.

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