The dieselgate scandal continues as former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn has been charged with fraud.
According to Reuters, the Braunschweig prosecutor’s office has charged Winterkorn and four other managers for their involvement in the massive emissions cheating scandal. The office also said they are looking at the involvement of 36 other people as part of their ongoing investigation.
Winterkorn is taking the brunt of the blame as prosecutors allege the former executive committed a “particularly serious case of fraud, a violation of the law against unfair competition and breach of fiduciary trust.”
Prosecutors say the cheating went on for nearly a decade and Winterkorn could have put a stop to it earlier than he did. In particular, authorities claim the former executive was aware that cheating was taking place in May of 2014 but he didn’t inform authorities.
As a result, the company continued to sell vehicles which used defeat devices and didn’t comply with emission standards. This lack of action caused Volkswagen to be hit with significant penalties and prosecutors say the fines would have been lower if Winterkorn would have notified authorities about what was happening.
Winterkorn now faces a lengthy legal battle and prosecutors have suggested he could be facing up to ten years in prison.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, which charged Winterkorn with conspiracy and wire fraud last year, the former executive was “clearly informed of the emissions cheating” in May 2014 and, again, in July 2015. The cheating was so blatant that Winterkorn and other Volkswagen executives were reportedly shown a PowerPoint presentation which detailed how they were deceiving U.S. regulators and the potential consequences of getting caught.
Despite this, Winterkorn reportedly signed off on an effort to get 2016 model year vehicles approved by the California Air Resources Board without disclosing they were outfitted with defeat devices. However, at that meeting, an employee revealed the defeat devices and Volkswagen was forced to admit their existence on September 3rd, 2015 – nearly 16 months after the Winterkorn was originally informed about the cheating.