Leaked data shows ex-VW chief knew of emissions test cheating

Martin Winterkorn said to have know about illicit VW software before scandal broke

 Martin Winterkorn: data from July 2015, leaked to the ‘Bild am Sonntag’, suggests he agreed with VW strategy not to admit the scale of the wrongdoing.  Photograph: Michele Tantussi/Bloomberg

Martin Winterkorn: data from July 2015, leaked to the ‘Bild am Sonntag’, suggests he agreed with VW strategy not to admit the scale of the wrongdoing. Photograph: Michele Tantussi/Bloomberg

 

Volkswagen’s ex-chief executive Martin Winterkorn was reportedly informed about the car firm’s efforts to cheat emissions tests – and a plan to make only a partial disclosure to US authorities – seven weeks before the scandal broke.

Mr Winterkorn stepped down shortly after the revelations in September 2015, claiming to have known nothing about the use of software to manipulate diesel emissions during official testing, although documents suggest he knew about VW’s illicit efforts as early as July last year.

A document dated July 30th, 2015, leaked to the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, suggests Mr Winterkorn agreed days earlier in a meeting with the company strategy not to admit the full scale of the wrongdoing.

‘Problem issue’

The strategy document states that two VW employees would meet with a Californian environment official for an unofficial exchange. In this discussion the two VW employees were authorised to “partially” admit the “problem issue” of software engineered to make VW diesel exhausts appear cleaner than they were. The document continues that this strategy “was confirmed with Prof Winterkorn on Tuesday, the 28.7.2015”.

The meeting took place in California on August 5th, after which one of the two VW employees attending wrote of a “positive discussion”. The US official had reacted “sympathetically” to the admission that VW’s diesels “did not meet the legal demands” and that the German company was working on a fix. However the memo warns to expect “head wind in further discussions with technical personnel” on the US side.

Weeks later, VW was forced to make a full and humiliating confession of the full scale of its cheating. Mr Winterkorn resigned and VW’s share price tumbled ahead of multibillion criminal and compensation claims.

According to the leaked document, US investigators offered the engineers involved in the preliminary talks suspended sentences and fines of up to €150,000 if they made a confession. The German engineers denied the offer, apparently fearing they would lose protection by VW and have to pay their own legal costs.

A spokesman for VW declined to comment.

Legal challenges

As well as the belated diesel admission VW – and software partner Bosch – have urged US authorities not to make 20 million pages of documents in their investigation available to parties involved in European legal challenges against the companies. Several motorists are taking cases with VW Group thorough the Irish courts relating to the scandal, which involved 11 million cars worldwide, including an estimated 110,000 in Ireland.

State prosecutors in Braunschweig have opened a separate criminal investigation into the company and its lead employees for market manipulation, claiming senior executives withheld relevant information from investors.

However VW and Bosch told a San Francisco court on Saturday that the documents lodged as part of the US legal case had no business being shared with the Braunschweig investigation, as it was a civil case.

German lawyers representing 100 VW shareholders have argued that Mr Winterkorn was an expert on car emissions and was aware of the problems with VW diesel engines from as early as 2014, when the first indications came from the US of manipulated VW software.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.