Volkswagen Winterkorn apology video screenshot

The Dieselgate scandal reaches far and wide, and criminal charges filed by the United States is the latest challenged faced by former Volkswagen chief executive Martin Winterkorn, according to Reuters. The indictment was filed in secret by the US Department of Justice in March, and was unsealed in a US district court last Thursday as the automaker held its annual meeting in Berlin.

The company’s former CEO is charged with four felony counts including conspiracy to defraud the United States, wire fraud and violating the Clean Air Act from ‘at least’ May 2006 through November 2015, following VW’s admission of using software to enable excess emissions while avoiding detection.

Winterkorn officially announced his resignation as CEO in September 2015, though other senior executives who were on the company’s board of management at the time continue to serve in senior positions within the company. In a group-wide management restructuring, Herbert Diess succeeded Matthias Müller as group CEO and chairman of the board, while now also responsible for group development and research. Head of Audi in 2015, Rupert Stadler is now head of group sales.

A lawyer for Winterkorn reached by Reuters did not respond when asked for acomment, while a Volkswagen spokesperson said the company “continues to cooperate with investigations but does does not comment about probes of individuals,” the report said.

As Germany’s Federal Justice Ministry said that it does not extradite German nationals to countries outside the European Union, Winterkorn is unlikely to face US authorities. Additionally, Winterkorn is unlikely to travel to a jurisdiction that might extradite him to the United States, a source told Reuters.

“If you try to deceive the United States, then you will pay a heavy price,” said US attorney-general Jeff Sessions as quoted by Reuters, and the report added that no individuals were charged at Toyota for the unintended acceleration scandal or at General Motors for the ignition switch defect.

As for Volkswagen itself, the company has gone to great lengths to recover from the scandal, namely by pledging a vast investment towards electrification, and was expected in April 2016 to commit to a US$15 billion settlement. Reuters also reports that Volkswagen has agreed to spend more than US$25 billion (RM98.5 billion) in the United States to address claims from owners, regulators and dealers.

Volkswagen chose not to disclose the use of illegal software as it felt that the matter could be resolved amicably with US authorities, its annual report said. The charges against Winterkorn showed “Volkswagen’s scheme to cheat its legal requirements went all the way to the top of the company,” US attorney-general Jeff Sessions said in a statement.

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The indictment alleges that the automaker’s employees recommended that the company seek to get approval for its 2016 diesel models from US regulators without disclosing the existence of cheating software, and that Winterkorn agreed to the plan. The indictment also stated that Winterkorn was informed of the emissions cheating by memo in May 2014.

In August last year, Volkswagen engineer James Liang was sentenced to 40 months in prison and given a US$200,000 fine for his role in the Dieselgate scandal, while former executive and emissions compliance manager Oliver Schmidt was give a seven-year prison sentence and a US$400,000 fine.