Former VW boss and four executives charged over 'dieselgate'

Martin Winterkorn former chairman of German car maker Volkswagen.Tobias Schwarz

Martin Winterkorn former chairman of German car maker Volkswagen.Tobias Schwarz

The former chief executive of the carmaker Volkswagen has been charged in Germany over his involvement in the company's diesel emissions scandal.

Volkswagen admitted in September 2015 to having used illegal engine control software to cheat USA pollution tests, triggering a global backlash against diesel and costing the carmaker 29 billion euros so far ($33 billion).

However, prosecutors said Winterkorn approved the expenditure of €23m (£20m) on a "useless" software update which was created to continue obscuring the real reason for the increased levels of pollutants from its cars in real-world conditions.

The four other unnamed Volkswagen executives have all been charged with a variety of fraud charges relating to the scandal.

The case, consisting of a 692-page indictment backed by 300 file volumes holding 75,000 pages, was filed in a local court in Braunschweig on Friday.

The Brunswick prosecutors said people accused of particularly serious fraud could face up to 10 years in prison in Germany.

The 71-year-old resigned soon after the scandal erupted in September 2015.

Prosecutors said Winterkorn was accused of a particularly serious case of fraud, breach of trust and breaching competition laws because he had not acted - despite having a special responsibility to do so as the company's CEO - after it became clear on May 25, 2014, that diesel engines had been manipulated. Winterkorn has previously denied wrongdoing.

The company has admitted installing software that could tell when the cars were on test stands for emissions certification. VW has already apologised and pleaded guilty to criminal charges. When the cars went on to everyday driving, the emission controls were turned off, improving mileage and performance but emitting far more than the USA legal limit of nitrogen oxides, a class of pollutant that is harmful to health.

Nitrogen oxides have been blamed for a global public health crisis, contributing to tens of thousands of premature deaths from heart and lung disease and strokes every year.

He also neglected to inform customers of the illegal software and did not prevent the continued installation of such software, the prosecutors alleged.

While Winterkorn has already been charged by USA authorities, he remains in Germany, which does not typically extradite its citizens for prosecution in US courts. He was arrested when attempting to return to Germany following a family holiday in Florida.

As well as failing to inform authorities of the cheating, VW "with the knowledge and approval of Winterkorn" issued a software update in November 2014 whose only goal was to cover up the so-called "defeat devices" that enabled the cheating, said the statement. Investors in Germany are also seeking damages over VW's failure to disclose the issue.

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