Dieselgate: opening of the first trial of a car boss in Germany

Dieselgate: opening of the first trial of a car boss in Germany

MUNICH | Rupert Stadler, the former CEO of the manufacturer Audi, a subsidiary of Volkswagen, becomes Wednesday the first German automobile boss to be tried for fraud in his country, five years after the revelation of the vast scandal of rigged diesel engines.

Mr. Stadler, 57, will have to answer for “fraud”, “issuance of false certificates” and “false advertising”, according to the charges of the Munich prosecutor's office.

He compared alongside former Audi and Porsche director Wolfgang Hatz, and two engineers from the four-ring brand.

They face up to 10 years in prison at the end of this complex trial scheduled to last until the end of December 2022, the first in Germany in this global case that erupted in 2015.

The automotive giant Volkswagen had admitted to having installed devices in 11 million vehicles around the world making them appear less polluting during laboratory tests than they actually are.

The media interest in Mr. Stadler's appearance is immense. The trial will be held in one of the annexes of the Munich court, in the Stadelheim district, but the number of places will nonetheless be limited due to restrictions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

90 pages of accusation

The German investigation quickly focused on Audi, which was responsible within the Volkswagen group for part of the research and development of engines.

Joined the brand with the rings in 1990 and CEO from 2007, Mr. Stadler had already been in June 2018 the first automotive executive placed in pre-trial detention in this case – because suspected by the justice system of seeking to influence witnesses or other suspects – before being released.

The prosecution accuses him of having been aware of the manipulations towards the end of September 2015 “at the latest”, without having prevented the sale of hundreds of thousands of vehicles equipped with cheating software.

Its three co-defendants are accused of having developed diesel engines equipped with this system, installed in vehicles since 2009.

The charges relate to a total of 434,420 vehicles of the Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche brands marketed mainly in Europe and the United States.

Mr Stadler has consistently rejected the charges, as has Mr Hatz, whose lawyer said he would speak “in detail”.

The charge, which will be read in full at the first hearing, is over 90 pages long.

30 billion euros

Mr. Stadler may not be the only boss to have to explain himself to the judges for long.

The former boss of the Volkswagen group, Martin Winterkorn, is awaiting a trial, the date of which has not yet been set, for fraud in an organized group, aggravated tax evasion and manipulation of the share price.

For its part, five years after the revelations in the United States, Volkswagen has drawn a line under much of the scandal for a bill exceeding 30 billion euros.

Most of it was paid in the United States. In Germany, the manufacturer, which is now betting everything on the electric car, has spent some 750 million euros to compensate 240,000 customers. And he tries, after an unfavorable decision of the highest court of the country, to propose amicable agreements to settle a large part of the 60,000 remaining requests.

The current CEO of the group, Herbert Diess, and the chairman of the supervisory board, Hans Dieter Pötsch, last year avoided a lawsuit, by means of a financial transaction of 9 million euros, under an agreement with the justice.

Volkswagen and brands of the group have also paid three fines totaling 2.3 billion euros to draw a line on the investigations.

In civil matters, the last major lawsuit remains that of investors asking for compensation for the plunge in the share price after the revelations, opened in September 2018 and still ongoing.

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