Former VW boss charged over diesel emissions scandal

Former VW boss charged over diesel emissions scandal

Former VW boss charged over diesel emissions scandal

German prosecutors charged former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn and four others with fraud in the emissions cheating scandal that has helped turn many Europeans against diesel engines and accelerated the push toward electric cars.

VW was caught using illegal engine control software to cheat US pollution tests in September 2015, triggering a global backlash against diesel that and has so far cost it 29 billion euros ($32.8 billion).

Prosecutors said Monday that Winterkorn knew about the scheme since at least May 2014 and failed to put a stop to it.

However, prosecutors said Winterkorn approved the expenditure of €23m (£20m) on a "useless" software update which was created to continue obscuring the real reason for the increased levels of pollutants from its cars in real-world conditions. The Braunschweig prosecutors say the indictment covers 692 pages, with an additional 300 file volumes featuring 75,000 pages, to explain the charges.

The 71-year-old resigned soon after the scandal erupted in September 2015.

Winterkorn is taking the brunt of the blame as prosecutors allege the former executive committed a "particularly serious case of fraud, a violation of the law against unfair competition and breach of fiduciary trust". Winterkorn has previously denied wrongdoing.

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That date was more than a year before VW publicly admitted to fitting 11 million vehicles with software to make them appear less polluting in the lab than in real driving conditions. In 2016, the company agreed to a $14.7-billion settlement with the US. When the cars went on to everyday driving, the emission controls were turned off, improving performance but emitting far more than the US legal limit of nitrogen oxides, a class of pollutant that is harmful to health.

Nitrogen oxides have been blamed for a global public health crisis, contributing to tens of thousands of premature deaths from heart and lung disease and strokes every year.

The prosecutors' move is only one of the legal proceedings unleashed by the scandal.

The former chief executive is already under indictment in the U.S. but is highly unlikely to face trial. If found guilty, he could face a prison sentence of up to 10 years. He was arrested when attempting to return to Germany following a family holiday in Florida. In particular, authorities claim the former executive was aware that cheating was taking place in May of 2014 but he didn't inform authorities.

Investors in Germany are also seeking damages. First, the Braunschweig prosecutors are continuing their probe against 36 more suspects, according to Monday's news release.

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