Former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn is facing some serious charges in relation to the automaker's Dieselgate scandal.
US prosecutors charged Winterkorn with wire fraud and conspiracy to defraud the United States, according to an indictment that was unsealed today. While he stepped down from his position shortly after VW admitted to its diesel malfeasance, he was still running the show when everything went down.
According to the indictment, Winterkorn was briefed in 2015 about the situation, at which time he allegedly gave the green light to continued concealment of the vehicles' defeat devices, which were used to bypass federal emissions regulations. The prosecution alleges that Winterkorn may have known of the cheats as early as 2014.
"The indictment unsealed today alleges that Volkswagen's scheme to cheat its legal requirements went all the way to the top of the company," said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a written statement. "These are serious allegations, and we will prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law."
"Volkswagen continues to cooperate with investigations by the Department of Justice into the conduct of individuals," a VW spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "It would not be appropriate to comment on individual cases."
Volkswagen admitted to cheating emissions regulations in various markets, including the US, on a number of its diesel vehicles. Its 2.0-liter vehicles were equipped with software that could determine whether or not the vehicle was undergoing testing. During said testing, the vehicles would curtail their emissions output, but once on the road, the vehicles would pollute well in excess of legal limits.
The automaker itself pleaded guilty to multiple criminal charges, including fraud and obstruction of justice, last March. It was the first time VW admitted guilt in any court around the world. The company was eventually sentenced to three years of probation and independent oversight, in addition to a $2.8 billion criminal fine. The company has spent about $30 billion on Dieselgate in the US as of September 2017, including buyback programs and environmental remediation efforts.
Individuals have also been charged. James Liang, a former VW engineer, was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison last August, in addition to $200,000 in fines. Former executive Oliver Schmidt pleaded guilty in 2017 for his role in Dieselgate and received a seven-year prison sentence, as well.