Volkswagen former chief executive officer Martin Winterkorn was charged in a Michigan federal court with conspiracy and wire fraud in relation to a probe into the German automaker’s efforts to cheat U.S. diesel emissions testing, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday.
Winterkorn, who stepped down from his role as CEO days after the scandal was revealed, is accused of conspiring to defraud the U.S. and violate the Clean Air Act. The carmaker didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. He is the highest-ranking person to be charged in the matter.
VW admitted in September 2015 that it outfitted about 11 million diesel cars worldwide with a defeat device, embedded software that allowed the vehicles to recognize when they were being tested in laboratory conditions, and to reduce emissions to meet acceptable levels. According to the indictment, Winterkorn was briefed on both the emissions issue and how U.S. regulators were threatening to delay certifying 2016 cars for sale, at a July meeting in Wolfsburg, Germany, where the company is based.
The carmaker pleaded guilty in January 2017 to using false statements to import cars into the U.S. and to obstructing investigations, and paid $4.3 billion in penalties. Two other employees have pleaded guilty over their role in the affair, and five other executives have been indicted by the U.S. and remain in Germany, avoiding arrest. They include executives who led engine development as well as the failed efforts to design a diesel engine that would meet the tougher emissions standards the U.S. adopted for 2007, as well as another liaison to U.S. regulators.