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Did VW’s CEO know about the emissions cheat all along?

Former Volkswagen chief Martin Winterkorn denies knowing about the diesel emissions cheat that landed the company in massive financial trouble, but leaked emails suggests otherwise.

In the email exchange, Winterkorn is allegedly warned by retired executive Bernd Gottweis that US regulators could discover the cheating software that made its diesel cars seem more efficient than they actually were.

German newspaper Bild am Sonntag obtained the emails, which it claims were sent from the ex-VW employee to Winterkorn – who was CEO at the time – in May of 2014. The New York Times has since reviewed the same emails.

The email is yet to be proven authentic. If real, it would suggest Winterkorn was privy to the ‘defeat device’ software found in Audi, Porsche and VW diesel vehicles before the email was sent.

This would go against his statement when he stepped down from the CEO role, in which he said: “I am doing this in the best interests of the company, even though I am not aware of any wrongdoing on my part”.

VW will face much harsher penalties and fines for failing to disclose to shareholders any issues that could affect the stock price if the email exchange turns out to be real. After all, VW only admitted publicly it had fitted defeat devices in September 2015.

Winterkorn started his career at the VW group in 1993, before being promoted to Audi CEO in 2002 and then CEO of the Volkswagen Group in 2007. He resigned on the 23rd of September, 2015.

VW recently said it estimated only 36,000 cars were affected by the CO2 emissions scandal, a significant decrease on the original 800,000-car estimation. Even so, the German manufacturer faces billions in fines and lawsuits and shares in VW dropped by more than 50 per cent in 2015.

In an official statement issued at the time, VW said: “Only a small number of the model variants of new cars will have the catalogue (CO2) figure slightly adjusted.

“Against this background, the negative impact on earnings of €2bn that was originally expected has not been confirmed. Whether we will have a minor economic impact depends on the results of the remeasurement exercise.”

Adding to VW’s lengthy list of woes, the Department of Justice in the US is now suing Volkswagen for billions for violating the Clean Air Act, a federal law designed to ‘protect human health and the environment from the effects of air pollution’.


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