Former Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn's indictment by a U.S. grand jury, unsealed this month in Detroit, should be an important step toward justice and recompense for the costliest cover-up in automotive history, the $30 billion diesel emissions scandal.
It should be, but it won't be.
That's because the amended indictment — laying out Winterkorn's alleged knowledge of and participation in a global conspiracy with at least five other top VW executives to cheat on emissions tests — is unlikely to ever be read in a U.S. courtroom.
As a German living in his homeland, Winterkorn is legally protected from extradition to the U.S. by the German Constitution. The U.S. Justice Department, in announcing the Winterkorn indictment, did give a note of thanks for the cooperation of its counterparts in Braunschweig, who are pursuing their own case against VW executives. But German authorities — now into the third year of their own investigation — have yet to haul any top-level VW executives before the bar.
Justice in this case shouldn't be solely the responsibility of the U.S. And yet since the diesel emissions scandal broke in September 2015, there has been little evidence of official justice for executives in Germany, where it would be felt the most.
It's clear from U.S. investigators' recounting of Volkswagen's alleged actions that decisions were made — and orders given — from the highest levels of the automaker's board of management that could and should warrant prosecution in Germany.
Even a highly anticipated internal investigation of company actions leading to the diesel scandal, commissioned by Volkswagen itself and known as the Jones Day report, has yet to see the light of day. Volkswagen initially promised to make the report public, to lay bare the actions of its former executives. But it remains locked up for unknown reasons, meaning any efforts to learn the truth from those closest to what happened remain locked up as well.
Justice is a hallmark of civilized society, different from vengeance or retaliation in that it requires truth to exist and be known.
It's time that justice is done — in Germany — with those responsible for Volkswagen's crimes.