Handelsblatt Exclusive VW Legal Chief Resigns After 1 Year on Job

Volkswagen's board member for legal affairs and compliance, Christine Hohmann-Dennhardt, is leaving the automaker after just one year on the job, Handelsblatt has learned. VW's stock extended losses.
Christine Hohmann-Dennhardt, Volkswagen's board member responsible for legal affairs and compliance, is leaving the company after one year on the job, Handelsblatt has learned.

Christine Hohmann-Dennhardt, a lawyer who took responsibility for legal affairs and compliance at Volkswagen just one year ago in the midst of its Dieselgate crisis, is leaving the company, Handelsblatt has learned.

The former German federal constitutional court judge left her corporate lawyer job at Daimler for Wolfsburg-based VW in January 2016 to become the board member responsible for legal affairs and compliance.

Volkswagen was facing a mountain of legal challenges from its Dieselgate deception when it hired Ms. Hohmann-Dennhardt, a noted corporate lawyer, to help negotiate settlements in the United States.

Her departure from VW was based on mutual consent, Handelsblatt has learned, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who declined to be identified. Volkswagen confirmed her departure in a statement on Thursday afternoon, saying she would leave the company by the end of the month by "mutual agreement."

Hiltrud Werner, head of Volkswagen Group auditing since January last year, will be Ms. Hohmann-Dennhardt's successor.

"Volkswagen and (Ms.) Hohmann-Dennhardt are parting due to differences in their understanding of responsibilities and future operating structures within the function she leads," the carmaker said.

Volkswagen's preference shares extended losses after the news broke of her departure. The stock was down 0.9 percent by 2:57 P.M. local time in Frankfurt. The German blue-chip DAX Index rose 0.4 percent.

Ms. Hohmann-Dennhardt did not stay long to help the world's largest automaker emerge from its morass of legal problems.

In October, Volkswagen reached a settlement in U.S. District Court in San Francisco to pay $14.7 billion to affected U.S. buyers of its cars. The same month it reached a $1.2 billion settlement with its U.S. dealers. In December, it settled with buyers in Canada.

And earlier this month it agreed to a $4.3 billion settlement with U.S. regulators over the emissions deception, saying the judgment had put an end to the major litigation it faced in the United States.

One source told Handelsblatt that Ms. Hohmann-Dennhardt was challenged by the linguistics required for talks with the U.S. authorities, which took place in English. Volkswagen's U.S. settlement was eventually signed by the head of the automaker's legal department, Manfred Döss, and a board member responsible for purchasing, Francisco Javier Garcia Sanz.

VW's non-executive chairman, Hans Dieter Pötsch, had hoped that the quick hiring of Ms. Hohmann-Dennhardt could convince U.S. regulators to abstain from placing an external supersvisor at the carmaker. The U.S. Department of Justice did this in 2010 with Daimler, which had to accept former FBI Director Louis Freeh and co-monitor Ms. Hohmann-Dennhardt to lead corporate reforms at the Stuttgart-based maker of Mercedes cars after bribery charges.

Volkswagen, however, will now face the same fate as Daimler. In the settlement agreed with the U.S. Department of Justice earlier this month, VW agreed to accept an external supervisor for three years to monitor how well the carmaker changes its culture to prevent future criminal fraud and environmental violations from occuring.

Hiltrud Werner, head of Volkswagen Group auditing since January last year, will be Ms. Hohmann-Dennhardt's successor, the company said. Ms. Werner holds an economics degree and has worked for car companies, including BMW and VW's truck unit MAN, since 1996. Her previous job was chief audit executive at German car parts maker ZF Friedrichshafen, a position she held from 2014 to the end of 2015.

 

Martin Murphy is a Handelsblatt editor responsible for the auto industry. Kevin O'Brien and Gilbert Kreijger from Handelsblatt Global contributed to this article. To reach the author: [email protected]