Dieselgate: US files criminal charges against former VW chief Winterkorn

The US Justice Department on Thursday unsealed criminal charges against former Volkswagen AG chief executive Martin Winterkorn, accusing him of conspiring to cover up the German automaker's diesel emissions cheating.

Former Volkswagen AG chief executive Martin Winterkorn
An indictment filed in secret in March was unsealed in US District Court on Thursday, the same day as Volkswagen’s annual meeting in Germany.
Winterkorn, now 70, had resigned days after news of the scandal broke in September 2015.
The Justice Department has charged him with four felony counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States, wire fraud and violating the Clean Air Act.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Environmental Protection Administration chief Scott Pruitt and other senior Trump administration official issued statements criticising VW over the indictment, which marks a rare instance of a CEO being subjected to criminal prosecution for corporate behaviour.
In contrast with Volkswagen, no individuals were charged at Toyota Motor Corp in connection with its sudden unintended acceleration scandal or at General Motors Co for the cover-up of a deadly ignition switch defect, Reuters points out.
"If you try to deceive the United States, then you will pay a heavy price," Sessions said.
The federal government's decisions not to prosecute senior financial industry executives in connection with the 2007-2009 financial crisis also has drawn fire from advocates of tougher measures to deter corporate wrongdoing.
The US indictment of Winterkorn is likely to be largely symbolic. As a German citizen, he is almost certain not to come to the United States and to seek protection under German extradition law. But he is also under investigation by German authorities.
Volkswagen settled criminal charges with the US Justice Department in 2017 and agreed to a $4.3 billion payment. In total, VW has agreed to spend more than $25 billion in the United States to address claims from owners, environmental regulators, states and dealers.
The company also has offered to buy back about 500,000 polluting US vehicles. Many are now stored in parking lots around the United States.
Volkswagen has been desperate to move on from the emissions scandal, vowing to spend billions on a number of new electric vehicles as it has seen US sales rebound, but the indictment reopens the question of whether other senior executives knew about the scandal, threatening to prolong the crisis.
A lawyer for Winterkorn in Germany did not immediately comment. Winterkorn in January 2017 told German lawmakers he had not been informed of the cheating early and would have halted it had he been aware, but he did not say when he first became aware of the issue.
A Volkswagen spokesman in Germany said the company "continues to cooperate with investigations" of individuals but would not comment on Thursday's charges.
Sessions said in a statement that the charges against Winterkorn showed that "Volkswagen's scheme to cheat its legal requirements went all the way to the top of the company."
The September 2015 disclosure that VW had for at least six years intentionally cheated on emissions tests did massive damage to the company's reputation around the world and prompted massive compensation and vehicle refit costs. VW halted the sale of new diesels in the United States after the scandal.