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VW chief faces criminal probe

By Simon Morgan

 

FRANCKFURT, Germany—German prosecutors on Monday announced a criminal probe against Volkswagen’s former boss Martin Winterkorn as VW group carmakers Audi and Skoda said more than three million of their vehicles were fitted with software designed to dupe emission tests.

The German government piled on the pressure by urging the embattled auto giant to outline by October 7 how it planned to resolve the crisis that broke after Volkswagen revealed that 11 million of its diesel vehicles worldwide are equipped with so-called defeat devices.

In the latest fallout from the scandal, a Dutch distributor suspended sales of Volkswagen cars while Swiss authorities said there were nearly 130,000 cars with the devices in the Alpine nation.

Volkswagen’s top-of-the-range automaker Audi said that 2.1 million of its diesel cars worldwide are affected, as are another 1.2 million vehicles of VW’s Czech subsidiary Skoda.

A spokesman for Volkswagen’s light commercial vehicles business said 1.8 million of its light utility vehicles were also similarly equipped, German newspaper Hannoverschen Allgemeinen Zeitung reported.

The VW drama will be high on the agenda when the European Union’s 28 trade or industry ministers gather in Luxembourg this week.

In Germany, public prosecutors in the northern city of Brunswick said they had launched a criminal probe against 68-year-old Winterkorn, who resigned as VW’s CEO last week claiming he was “not aware” of having done anything wrong.

The carmaker’s supervisory board also appeared to absolve him initially, insisting that Winterkorn—who as Germany’s highest-paid executive could under normal rules stand to pocket a payout of around 60 million euros ($67 million)—had been oblivious of the fraud.

But prosecutors said they were looking to establish the exact chain of responsibility in the scam, which is snowballing into one of the biggest ever in the European automobile industry and threatening to tarnish Germany’s pristine engineering reputation.

“Following a number of legal suits, the public prosecutors in Brunswick have opened an investigation against Martin Winterkorn,” they said in a statement.

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