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Former Volkswagen CEO charged with conspiracy, wire fraud in connection to emissions test scandal

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WASHINGTON – An indictment charging Martin Winterkorn, the 70-year-old former chairman of the management board of Volkswagen AG, with conspiracy and wire fraud was unsealed Thursday.

The charges were in connection with VW’s long-running scheme to cheat U.S. diesel vehicle emissions requirements.

The superseding indictment was issued by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Michigan and charges Winterkorn with four counts of violating federal law.

The first count charges that Winterkorn conspired with other senior VW executives and employees to defraud the United States, defraud VW’s U.S. customers and violate the Clean Air Act by making false representations to regulators and the public about the ability of VW’s “clean diesel” vehicles to comply with U.S. emissions requirements.

The remaining three counts charge Winterkorn with wire fraud in connection with the scheme.

"If you try to deceive the United States, then you will pay a heavy price," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. "The indictment unsealed today alleges that Volkswagen’s scheme to cheat its legal requirements went all the way to the top of the company. These are serious allegations, and we will prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Attorney General Jeff Sessions

The indictment of Winterkorn is the most recent charge in an ongoing investigation by U.S. criminal authorities into unprecedented emissions cheating by VW.  

In March 2017, VW pleaded guilty to criminal charges that it deceived U.S. regulatory agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board by installing so-called defeat devices, which were designed to cheat emissions tests, in the diesel vehicles' emissions control systems.

The defeat devices consisted of software designed to recognize whether a vehicle was undergoing standard U.S. emissions testing on a dynamometer or being driven on the road under normal driving conditions, in which case harmful nitrogen oxide emissions increased significantly.

"The indictment of former VW CEO Martin Winterkorn should send a clear message that EPA and its law enforcement partners will seek to hold corporate officers accountable for alleged criminal activities at their company," said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt
EPA administrator Scott Pruitt

The indictment of Winterkorn alleges that he was informed of VW’s diesel emissions cheating in May 2014 and again in July 2015.  The indictment further alleges that Winterkorn, after having been clearly informed of the emissions cheating, agreed with other senior VW executives to continue to perpetrate the fraud and deceive U.S. regulators. 

Winterkorn, who served as VW’s management board chairman and was VW’s highest ranking executive from Jan. 2007 until Sep. 2015, is the ninth individual against whom U.S. criminal authorities have announced charges in connection with this matter.  Two former VW engineers, Oliver Schmidt and James Liang, pleaded guilty to participating in the conspiracy alleged in the indictment and are currently serving prison sentences of 84 months and 40 months, respectively.

Five additional defendants, including former VW executives and senior managers, were indicted in Jan. 2017, but have not been apprehended.