The Volkswagen legal document is 115 pages long.
Its purpose is to defend Europe’s largest automaker in German court against lawsuits brought by several shareholders in Germany. In its conclusion, lawyers at Göhmann law firm in Braunschweig said VW’s top managers did not violate any laws, according to the document, which Handelsblatt has seen.
But between the lines, the legal defense reads like an accusation: It lists a series of occasions between spring of 2014 and September 2015 when then-Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn was informed by subordinates of the “diesel topic” — a reference to the scandal that now threatens the firm.
Mr. Winterkorn is mentioned by name 16 times in the document. Last week, VW released a four-page summary to the public. Days after the scandal broke last September, Mr. Winterkorn resigned, denying knowledge of the software manipulation that falsified emissions tests on up to 11 million vehicles.
But regardless of questions of culpability — which prosecutors in Braunschweig and the United States are pursuing — a big question has been raised by Volkswagen’s own depiction of the events leading up to the scandal.
Should Mr. Winterkorn have acted sooner?
The shareholders suing Volkswagen in Germany argue that the automaker informed the public too late about the scandal, and is therefore legally responsible for their investment losses. VW shares plunged by up to 40 percent in the wake of the scandal.
The legal defense presented by Volkswagen in the Braunschweig civil case, devised to defend the automaker from compensatory damage claims, nevertheless casts a curious light on the actions of Mr. Winterkorn.
The legal document also names only once Herbert Diess, the head of VW-brand vehicles, but that is not surprising. The former BMW executive took over as VW-brand chief at Volkswagen last July.
The documents presented in court provided no evidence that would incriminate two top VW executives in the emissions-rigging: Matthias Müller, the Porsche CEO who succeeded Mr. Winterkorn last September as VW chief executive, and Hans Dieter Pötsch, VW’s chief financial officer who became chairman of the automaker’s non-executive supervisory board last October.