Martin Winterkorn, Volkswagen's former chief executive, toppled by the emissions-cheating scandal, dubbed “dieselgate”, is to stand trial after a German court approved charges of fraud against him, reported AFP.
"The chamber has determined that there is sufficient suspicion, that is, an overwhelming possibility of conviction, of the accused Professor Doctor Winterkorn for professional and gang fraud," said the court in Brunswick in a statement on Wednesday.
Chairman of the board of management of Volkswagen AG, the parent company of the Volkswagen Group, Winterkorn, 73, resigned from Volkswagen on 23 September 2015, several days after the emissions cheating row broke out.
He resigned as chairman of Audi on 11 November 2015, after further information associated with the scandal came to light in regard to VW's gasoline-powered engines.
Winterkorn was criminally indicted in the United States on 3 May 2018 on charges of fraud and conspiracy, and was subsequently criminally indicted on charges of fraud in Germany in April 2019.
Former @Volkswagen boss Martin Winterkorn has invoked his right to refuse to testify in upcoming #Dieselgate hearings, according to the district court of Stuttgart. Winterkorn has been subpoenaed along with other key former @Volkswagen, @Audi, @Porsche officials to give evidence. pic.twitter.com/L7JUpi8IxP— Greg Kable (@GregKable) June 27, 2018
The events relating to the court case took place between November 2006 and September 2015, according to prosecutors, who said Winterkorn had failed to inform European and US authorities after it became clear in May 2014 that diesel engines had been manipulated.
“Former Chief Executive Dr. Martin Winterkorn is being charged with a particularly serious case of fraud, a violation of the law against unfair competition and breach of fiduciary trust,” the prosecutors’ office said in a statement in April 2019.
While also allegedly failing to inform customers of the illegal software, the former CEO had also stopped short of taking action to prevent further test rigging.
Prosecutors added that Winterkorn’s actions led to Volkswagen being slapped with much higher fines in Germany and the United States than if he had acted to intervene.
Four more managers are also being charged on counts including major fraud and unfair competition, as well as serious tax evasion and fraudulent advertising said a court statement.
In a case that stunned Germany, the "dieselgate" controversy erupted in 2015, when the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed that Wolfsburg-based auto giant Volkswagen Group, which includes the Audi, Bentley, Porsche, SEAT and Skoda brands, had installed illegal engine control software in 11 million vehicles worldwide to make them appear less polluting in lab tests than they actually were on the road.
Volkswagen has been embroiled in litigation ever since, while German authorities launched an investigation into acting and former CEOs and board members of Volkswagen.
In May, VW group paid €9 million in an out-of-court settlement to prevent its two current bosses - chief executive Herbert Diess and supervisory board chief Hans Dieter Poetsch - from going on trial over market manipulation charges.
In late April, the group also agreed to pay around €750 million in compensation to some 235,000 customers, or between €1,350 and €6,250 per car.
The scandal has cost VW, the world's biggest automaker, more than €30 billion in fines, compensation and buyback schemes worldwide, according to AFP.