Former Volkswagen Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn told German lawmakers he did not know about the company’s systematic emissions cheating earlier than VW has officially admitted.
“That is not the case,” Winterkorn told the German parliament’s committee of inquiry into carmakers’ emissions irregularities.
The lawmakers’ questioning of Winterkorn takes place amid questions about when the former CEO and other top managers at VW found out about the diesel cheating and why they chose not to inform investors sooner.
“I, too, am looking for satisfactory answers,” Winterkorn said in his first public remarks since he apologised for the scandal in a televised statement on Sept. 22, 2015, one day before he resigned as CEO of Europe’s largest automaker.
Investors may be closely watching the Winterkorn testimony for any clues as to when he found out about the manipulations. VW is facing 8.8 billion euros ($9.36 billion) in damage claims from investors seeking compensation for the collapse of VW’s share price after the scandal broke.
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VW has said its executive board did not learn of the software violations until late August 2015 and formally reported the cheating to U.S. authorities in early September. The newspaper Bild Zeitung, by contrast, reported on Sunday that Winterkorn was fully briefed on the issue issue by head of U.S. compliance Oliver Schmidt on July 27. Schmidt was arraigned in a Miami court last week on charges of conspiracy to defraud U.S. regulators. Another five VW executives have been indicted.
Upon being asked whether he thought the diesel cheating could still be blamed on just a few engineers, Winterkorn acknowledged that it was more than a handful of staffers who knew but said he did not know how many people were involved.
Asked why he himself had no earlier knowledge, Winterkorn said: “Software applications represent a very specific area of work in engine development.”
Earlier this month, Volkswagen admitted to U.S. prosecutors that about 40 employees had deleted thousands of documents in an effort to hide systematic emissions cheating from regulators. That was part of a $4.3 billion settlement with the Justice Department to end a criminal investigation.
VW has said it will cut around 30,000 jobs, or 5% of its global workforce, as it restructures in the aftermath of the scandal.
Winterkorn was Germany’s highest-paid CEO before his resignation. According to VW’s financial reports, he is currently enjoying a pension of 93,000 euros ($100,000) a month.