Volkswagen’s former chief executive, Martin Winterkorn, appears to have known about potential problems with VW’s diesel emissions much earlier than he previously acknowledged, Handelsblatt has learned.
A report on Sunday in German newspaper Bild am Sonntag alleged that in May 2014 – 16 months before the problems became public – a colleague at VW had informed Mr. Winterkorn that U.S. environmental authorities had launched an investigation into irregularities in the automaker’s diesel emissions.
The scandal eventually became public last September, and now threatens the future of Germany’s largest listed company. Days after it surfaced, Mr. Winterkorn resigned, denying knowledge of the fraud, on September 23. He had just negotiated a lucrative, three-year extension to his compensation package.
According to sources within the company who spoke to Handelsblatt, it appears that top management at VW knew about the existence of a U.S. probe for more than a year before it went public – but apparently did little to address the situation, which angered U.S. investigators.
According to sources, Mr. Winterkorn knew of the existence of the U.S. investigation, but did not know about the illegal software the German automaker had installed on 11 million cars, including 600,000 in the United States, to fake compliance with pollution tests.
According to information obtained by Handelsblatt, it would appear that senior managers surrounding Mr. Winterkorn were informed of the scandal very early on in its development.
As the information came to light, VW management feigned ignorance and dug itself into a defensive position.