VW board eyes damage claims against former CEO Winterkorn

BERLIN — Former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn may never see the inside of a courtroom in the United States in connection with the company’s diesel emissions scandal. But his legal troubles are far from over.

A VW spokesman says the German automaker’s supervisory board is checking whether it can demand damage claims from Winterkorn in connection with the company’s diesel emissions cheating scandal.

Michael Brendel tells German news agency dpa “the investigation has been going on for quite some while and is conducted independently from the authorities’ investigation.”

German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung reported Sunday that Winterkorn could lose his property in connection with the company’s investigation.

Winterkorn, 70, was indicted Thursday in the United States on charges of fraud and conspiracy stemming from the company’s diesel emissions cheating scandal. It is unlikely that he could be extradited — Germany’s constitution forbids extradition of its citizens except to another European Union member state or to an international tribunal. But he’s far from in the clear, and could risk arrest if he travels to another country that would be willing to send him to the U.S.

Volkswagen has admitted to programming its diesel engines to activate pollution controls when being tested in government labs and turning them off when on the road.

When he resigned in September 2015 Winterkorn said he was unaware of any wrongdoing on his part. He later told the German parliament that he did not know of the emissions cheating during the years it was going on.

On top of any possible attempt by Volkswagen to seek damages, Winterkorn is among suspects being investigated in a criminal probe by prosecutors in the German city of Braunschweig, located in Volkswagen’s home region.

The indictment detailing the U.S. charges said that Winterkorn and other top VW officials were briefed on July 27, 2015 using a PowerPoint presentation on “how VW was deceiving U.S. regulators,” the document said. Employees suggested that VW could seek regulatory approval for 2016 cars by providing only partial disclosures to U.S. officials and “without revealing the existence of the cheating software.” The indictment says Winterkorn “agreed to this plan of action.”

The indictment also said that Winterkorn was sent a memorandum on the cars’ high emissions levels in May, 2014, which referred to a “defeat device,” the technical name for the software trick.

German prosecutors say their investigation is ongoing.

Two Volkswagen executives have been sentenced to prison terms in the United States. Five others have been charged but are believed to reside in Germany and to remain beyond the reach of U.S. prosecutors. One former manager, an Italian citizen, has also been charged and is in Germany pending extradition.

Additional revelations from the criminal cases about what Winterkorn knew and when he knew it could mean more trouble for Volkswagen as it defends civil shareholder lawsuits from investors who say the company did not give them timely warning of the impending scandal.

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