The US Justice Department has disclosed the filing of criminal charges against former Volkswagen chief executive Martin Winterkorn, accusing him of conspiring to cover up the German vehicle maker's diesel emissions cheating.
Prosecutors in Detroit unsealed the indictment Thursday charging Martin Winterkorn, 70, with three counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiring with other VW employees to violate the Clean Air Act.
Winterkorn was among the first wave of executives ousted by VW Group as the emissions cheating debacle came to light late in 2015. As a German citizen, Winterkorn is nearly certain not to come to the United States, and to seek protection under German extradition law, Reuters noted. It is unclear, however, if German prosecutors are pursuing a parallel investigation that could lead to charges in the disgraced executive's home country.
When such an investigation did open up, the indictment charges that Winterkorn and other executives "pursued a strategy of concealing the defeat device in responding to questions from USA regulators, while appearing to cooperate".
"The indictment unsealed today alleges that Volkswagen's scheme to cheat its legal requirements went all the way to the top of the company", said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a written statement.
He becomes the highest-ranking executive to be charged over "dieselgate" - a scheme where VW used software to trick government emissions testers.More news: Ahead of China trip, Lighthizer makes no predictions
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"Volkswagen deceived American regulators and defrauded American consumers for years", Matthew J. Schneider, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of MI, said in a statement.
VW pleaded guilty as a corporation in March, agreeing to pay a record $4.3bn in fines.
Volkswagen admitted in 2015 that it outfitted about 11,000,000 diesel cars worldwide with a device to cheat software aimed at reducing emissions. Two former VW engineers have been jailed... "These are serious allegations and we'll prosecute this case to the full extent of the law".
Five other VW execs and managers have been indicted but remain at large.
The company said it was cooperating with United States probes and declined to comment further.