Former Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn may never stand shackled before a U.S. federal judge or beg in vain for leniency, as imprisoned former VW executive Oliver Schmidt has done over the last year.
But the indictment unsealed Thursday, May 3, by the U.S. Justice Department against Winterkorn — who presided over Volkswagen during much of the time that it engaged in a vast conspiracy to hide its diesel emissions from regulators — lays bare his role in the auto industry's biggest scandal.
Despite his protestations otherwise, Winterkorn allegedly knew about the efforts to cheat diesel emissions testing for at least 15 months before the scandal broke, and actively tried to cover it up.
Winterkorn, 70, who quit Volkswagen in September 2015 shortly after the company was forced to admit to what it had done, was charged by a federal grand jury in Detroit with one count of conspiring with other VW executives to defraud the U.S., and three counts of wire fraud in connection with the scheme.
As a German citizen living in Germany under the protection from extradition of that country's constitution, Winterkorn is unlikely to appear in a U.S. courtroom. The same holds true for five other German Volkswagen engine-engineering executives under indictment: Richard Dorenkamp, Heinz-Jakob Neusser, Jens Hadler, Bernd Gottweis and Juergen Peter. All would face arrest and extradition if authorities ever caught them outside Germany.
Until Thursday, when U.S. attorneys petitioned to unseal Winterkorn's March 2018 indictment, the former CEO was noticeably absent from charges against the company and its high-ranking executives. It was known last year that Winterkorn presided over the July 2015 meeting where Schmidt was ordered to lie to regulators, but the indictment revealed for the first time that Winterkorn was specifically told of the deception in May 2014, and alleged that he may have known earlier.
Winterkorn's indictment also describes who was responsible in Volkswagen's top management for the $30 billion scandal. It alleges that Dorenkamp, head of Volkswagen's engine development after-treatment department, initially oversaw the development of the defeat devices, designed to fool emissions testers, and that Hadler, head of engine development for the VW brand, approved their use.