Martin Winterkorn charged in US for covering up emissions cheating scheme

Martin Winterkorn, CEO of the Volkswagen Group at the time the Dieselgate scandal erupted into public view, has been indicted on four charges in the United States.

The US indictment against Winterkorn was actually filed in secret in March, and was only revealed this week by the Detroit district court as the Volkswagen Group held its annual general meeting in Germany.

In the latest court filing, an attorney for the governments says the indictment is being unsealed "because there is no longer a belief that unsealing these documents will compromise an ongoing investigation".

"If you try to deceive the United States, then you will pay a heavy price," Jeff Sessions, the US Attorney General, said in a statement. "Volkswagen's scheme to cheat its legal requirements went all the way to the top of the company."

The indictment features one count of conspiracy to defraud the US, and three counts of wire fraud.

According to the indictment, a meeting was held on July 27, 2015, in Germany with Winterkorn to discuss the increasing possibility of authorities refusing to certify its 2016 model year diesel engines.

That meeting is said to have included a PowerPoint presentation detailing the company's emissions cheating practices so far. Prosecutors allege Winterkorn did not order his team to reveal their malpractice to authorities, but rather to continue cheating the system.

News of the emissions cheating scheme didn't emerge fully into view until months later, and the company publicly admitted to wrongdoing on September 3, 2015.

Given Germany's constitution prevents it from extraditing its citizens to countries outside of the European Union, Winterkorn will likely never set foot within a US courtroom.

So far nine people, including Winterkorn, have been charged in relation to the Dieselgate scandal. Five are German nationals who remain in their home country, one is an Italian currently awaiting extradition, and two (Oliver Schmidt and James Liang) are German engineers who have pled guilty and are currently serving time.

German officials have informed Automotive News it will continue to investigate Winterkorn and other high-ranking Volkswagen officials.

"Our investigation strategy does not change just because the Americans have filed charges against Winterkorn," a spokesperson for the prosecutors' office told the trade publication.