Relieving Management

VW’s Declared Innocence

VW press conference lineup managers dpa
Did we do wrong? VW's executives, including CEO Matthias Müller (middle).
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The recommendation could be a sign that there is no evidence the executive board was complicit in the diesel emissions manipulation scandal.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Each year and in accordance with German law, shareholders are asked to effectively approve the executives’ duties and discharge the managers of responsibilities in that year.
    • Former CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned days after the carmaker admitted to manipulating 11 million diesel cars worldwide to cheat emissions tests.
    • Hans Dieter Pötsch was VW’s chief financial officer until October 7 last year and then became chairman of the non-executive supervisory board.
  • Audio

    Audio

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It’s a scandal that has already cost Europe’s largest carmaker €16.2 billion ($18.5 billion) and will probably drain it for billions more. Yet on Wednesday, Volkswagen’s  supervisors said none of the automaker’s executives were to blame.

VW’s non-executive supervisory board, which supervises Chief Executive Matthias Müller and his colleagues, will advise shareholders to absolve management of its responsibilities for last year’s historic €1.6-billion loss and the massive scandal over the company’s cheating on diesel emissions values.

It is a bold move for the embattled carmaker and also goes against past practice at other major German firms like Siemens that were engulfed in scandals in the past.

Shareholders are effectively being asked to approve the work of the management board for the year 2015 at the manufacturer’s annual shareholders meeting, scheduled for June 22. Each year, shareholders of German listed companies are asked to approve the executives’ duties and discharge the managers of responsibilities in that year.

It is advice that is likely to be followed, if only because around 87 percent of VW’s voting rights are controlled by the Porsche and Piëch families, descendants of carmaker Ferdinand Porsche, as well as the state of Lower Saxony and oil nation Qatar. All these investors have representatives on the supervisory board that issued Wednesday’s statement.

The Wolfsburg-based automaker has painted the scandal, which broke last September, as the work of mid-level engineers and managers and insisted that top executives were unaware of their actions. The non-executive supervisory board, which has the power to hire and fire executives and decides on strategy, also recommended shareholders to approve of the supervisors’ duties last year.

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