VW diesel affair: exhaust fraud process started

Braunschweig (dpa) – The actual main character was missing – but even without the former VW CEO Martin Winterkorn, the large diesel fraud process started.

After years of investigations by the public prosecutor and two coronavirus The regional court of Braunschweig opened the main hearing on Thursday against initially four other ex-executives of the Wolfsburg-based car manufacturer. Accordingly, the engineers and managers are said to have been deeply involved in the development and use of the manipulation software in millions of vehicles. But accusations have also been made in the direction of Winterkorn, although its part of the process was postponed due to health problems 32 cost billions of euros in legal expenses and damaged consumer confidence in the automotive industry worldwide? A long argument has started, 133 Trial days are planned until the summer 2023.

The court had rented the town hall, to have space for all witnesses, listeners and journalists. The defendants appeared with three lawyers per person, looked uncertainly through the room or looked sadly at their documents. According to the investigations, Winterkorn is said to have known about the use of illegal software in the USA by May 2014 at the latest: «He deliberately, contrary to his duty, did not stop further marketing. The defendants wanted to generate the highest possible profits for the company. ” Because the installation of better exhaust technology, which would have allowed compliance with the strict US emission regulations even without dirty tricks, would probably have been significantly more expensive.

VW only admitted at the end of September 2015 that a software code recognized for years in diesels advertised as “clean” whether the car was in a test situation. Only then was nitrogen oxide cleaning fully activated, while many times more pollutants were blown into the air on the street. From the point of view of the prosecutors, the reconstruction of the events reveals a strategy of targeted cover-up.

Testimony stands against testimony. Engineers who are said to have proposed the defeat device say, in essence: We have raised concerns and warned of the consequences. The superiors respond: Problems were discussed, but never illegal actions.

It is clear to the public prosecutor that Winterkorn could not excuse himself, he only heard of irregularities and those – in retrospect – probably underestimated. After scientists in the USA 2014 had discovered the hustle and bustle, the note from a confidante in the boss’s “weekend mail” was relatively clear. He was told that cars exceeded permissible limits by up to 35 times. According to the prosecutors, Winterkorn took note of this. But: “He decided against disclosure and hoped to be able to keep the legal violations secret.” Meeting, the so-called “damage table”, at the end of July 2015 was directly discussed. Winterkorn had telephoned the confidante – as well as a high-ranking VW manager – in preparation. This told him: “We shit.” At the meeting, the extent of the threat of fines for 500. 000 manipulated vehicles in the United States was discussed. The “feared outburst of anger” Winterkorn failed to materialize. A high-ranking developer who was also accused then remarked: “Shit, went completely wrong.”

The origin of what is probably the largest German industrial scandal goes back further. VW wanted to catch up with the competition in the USA, and the diesel, which is still not widely used there, should help. Then a series of disguises around the software trick used – with the result that the five former managers and engineers are now accused of fraudulent business and gang. In the worst case, up to ten years imprisonment can result.

According to the prosecutor from 2006, a long-time co-defendant head of VW drive technology is said to have played a central role in the design of the software . As a safeguard, he wanted to obtain the approval of a supervisor. The mission was approved: “Don’t get caught!” All participants in a meeting that year were aware that the planned US diesel engine would not meet the limit values ​​without test detection.

Over time, others were also “in the picture”. A former head of development of the core brand VW, a main department head for diesel engine development and a department head for diesel exhaust gas cleaning are also on trial. The latter is said to have admitted the deceptions to the US authorities – contrary to instructions from Wolfsburg – and helped with the investigation, explained his defense lawyer.

Previously, the actors and confidants went further: the software has Soon it was also recognized whether someone was behind the wheel after mistakenly registering the test mode on long motorway journeys – clogged particle filters were the result. According to the public prosecutor’s office, the sentence should be said in one round: “If we’re screwing up, we’ll do it right.” And these manipulations were also further covered.

On 20. September 2015 then admitted the deceptions to Winterkorn. Total damage through the interaction of the five over all the years according to the indictment: over 230 billion euros, among other things because of incorrect registrations, tax advantages and distortion of competition. Civil proceedings are still ongoing elsewhere, on Thursday the Federal Court of Justice dismissed, for example, complaints from diesel customers for the repayment of leasing installments as a rule.

When Winterkorn will be added in Braunschweig is open. A defense attorney warned that you shouldn’t just hold your clients accountable – and sharply criticized the separation of the proceedings against the once best-paid German corporate leader because of a hip operation: “Taking responsibility for your own actions looks different.”

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