Braunschweig (dpa) – It is a process drama without a leading actor. While the former VW boss Martin Winterkorn is allowed to continue to pursue the fraud proceedings leading to the creation of “Dieselgate” from afar, the other four defendants cover him and each other with accusations.
The situation at the Braunschweig Regional Court is becoming increasingly confusing. The main negotiation has been going on for three weeks now, the progress is slow – possibly until the middle 2023.
Who knew what, when and how detailed about the deception software in millions of cars, before this 2015 blew up with a big bang? The prosecution has aggressively presented their investigation results and allegations against the former VW managers and engineers. She sees in it clear evidence of commercial and gang fraud.
A central figure is missing
The one before Executives standing in court admitted certain misjudgments here and there, according to the motto: Today I would act differently. “If I overlooked something, then I’m sorry,” said an accused ex-manager. However, they denied a deliberate resolution or an essential motivation for the “shitting” that the public prosecutor had identified in their research on statements of a high superior – and referred more than once to the role of the top executive.
The problem: As long as Winterkorn is not there in person thanks to a medical certificate for hip surgery with subsequent rehab, it will be difficult for the Economic Criminal Chamber to clear the thicket of the sometimes contradicting representations. So far, his presumed joint responsibility can only be assessed based on the files. Even the entry into the taking of evidence and the first hearing of witnesses is now possible without the former “Mr. Volkswagen »take place.
Acceleration versus deceleration
Not only among critics of the car company, but also among those involved in the process this is highly controversial. The presiding judge Christian Schütz had separated the part against Winterkorn from the opening against the other four – on the grounds that the overall proceedings could be accelerated and condensed after the long preparation time. Only when the state of health of the 74 – year-old former chairman of the board allows it, should he join.
Defense lawyers for the other defendants would not accept that. In any case, the strands of the investigation have not yet been completed, they argued – at the same time, the indictment revolves largely around the action or omission of Winterkorn. The declarations of her clients are overshadowed by this: There is a risk of prejudice, even for what the once best-paid DAX manager must be held accountable for. Schütz and his fellow judges rejected an application to suspend the proceedings pending a decision by the Higher Regional Court (OLG).
Bargaining or not?
The public prosecutor’s office was also not enthusiastic about the chairman’s actions, albeit for different reasons. She wants to see Winterkorn sit in the courtroom as soon as possible and hear personally comment on the indictment. And anyway: Is a hip problem – as uncomfortable as it may be – enough to completely doubt the ability to negotiate? A medical officer must be turned on, investigators have heard. Behind the scenes, some people are wondering whether Winterkorn will ever appear.
Formally, the matter is clear since the OLG, as a higher instance, also threw off a complaint from the public prosecutors against the spin-off: Schütz’s decision is flawless with a view to the desired pace of proceedings against the four. A smack for the prosecutors. From when Winterkorn will be included remains to be seen.
Executives and «drive freaks»
Meanwhile the first appointments in the Braunschweiger Stadthalle – only here was enough space for the process marathon expected – the fronts were basically shown. According to the indictment, the men are said to have been deeply involved in the development and use of the software. «Don’t get caught», a VW manager has already said 2006 to a co-accused engineer.
In a round of crisis 2012 the sentence is said to have been uttered: “If we’re screwing up, we’ll do it right.” From the point of view of the criminal prosecutors, the background was that the manipulation code was also “refined” with recognition of the steering angle in addition to the recognition of emissions tests. “You drive freaks, what have you done again?” Winterkorn is said to have said 2015 when the circle of those who knew about it and the pressure from the US authorities had grown according to the indictment.
Soon after the trial started, the defense also focused on the absent ex-CEO. “The message of sitting here without Mr. Winterkorn is a disaster,” scolded a lawyer. “Taking responsibility for your own actions looks different,” commented a colleague on the procedural separation.
The first few days also made a constellation appear among the four who are already present in which there is often a testimony against a testimony. The engineers who are said to have suggested the illegal defeat device say: We expressed concerns and warned of the consequences. The superiors respond: Problems were discussed, but never illegal actions.
Later everything at the beginning?
The impression that technicians decided overnight to cheat customers is wrong, according to a former manager the drive electronics. A manager countered that the software had never been presented to him separately and explicitly. “If I understand something clearly, then I will position myself to do so,” explained the former head of VW engine development. Managers also spoke of “untruthful statements” by the engineers “for their own exoneration.”
All four defendants reacted to the allegations with statements that sometimes lasted several hours. Without major interruptions, they were able to describe their view of the emissions affair to the court. Sometimes they presented the statements emotionally, sometimes soberly. Three of the men reported in a rather brief form, one spoke extensively about technical details.
In terms of content, it should become more exciting in the further course when the chamber directs its own questions to the accused. And especially as soon as Winterkorn takes part. Had he been brought in under pressure from the public prosecutor’s office, it would have started all over again. Even so, the following should apply to the classification of his role from the first Winterkorn meeting: not everything, but a lot at the beginning.