When German prosecutors raided the headquarters of the luxury carmaker Audi last March, they could have quietly let themselves in the back door. Instead, they waited until Audi CEO Rupert Stadler was holding a major press conference and parked one of their cars – a BMW, no less – in Mr. Stadler’s private parking spot.
They said the raid was to glean new information about Audi, a key division of the Volkswagen Group, but it also effectively sent a message to executives at the center of a multi-pronged investigation into Volkswagen’s widespread emissions cheating.
The case prosecutors are building against Audi is only one piece of a much larger puzzle. Mr. Stadler is under suspicion of having known that defeat devices were being installed into his company’s cars, but he’s not the only one. This week, prosecutors confirmed that three of Volkswagen’s nine board members are under investigation, including CEO Matthias Müller, including Hans Dieter Pötsch, the chairman of Volkswagen’s supervisory board, and Martin Winterkorn, the disgraced former CEO who stepped down after Dieselgate broke.
Together, the pursuit of Volkswagen by prosecutors from three German states has stoked a culture of disillusionment and fear in and around Europe’s largest automaker. For some, Volkswagen’s headquarters in Wolfsburg has become a fortress under siege, in which not a day goes by without a new front of attack opening up.
The attackers – in this case prosecutors, regulators and legions of scorned customers – speak of a “diesel scandal” and “fraud” that has yet to be dealt with to satisfaction. Inside the besieged headquarters, there is a lot of talk of a “diesel issue” that was blown out of proportion and became a full-on “diesel crisis.” Many company insiders are dismayed that more legal pressure is being heaped onto Volkswagen.