Former Volkswagen Chairman Ferdinand Piëch has made potentially damaging statements against the carmaker's ex-chief executive Martin Winterkorn, telling prosecutors that Mr. Winterkorn was made aware of VW's Dieselgate scandal earlier than he has admitted, German magazine Der Spiegel reported Friday, without citing sources.
Mr. Piëch, who was VW’s non-executive chairman from 2002 until April 25, 2015, has told German prosecutors that he personally challenged in February 2015 Mr. Winterkorn about indications that the company was manipulating diesel engines in the United States, according to the magazine.
The scandal officially became public on September 18, 2015. Mr. Winterkorn has repeatedly said he and other board members learned of the scandal early that month.
Mr. Winterkorn declined to comment because he had only learned of Mr. Piëch's statements a few days ago and he had not yet received the files by the prosecutors' office, his lawyer said. The prosecutors also declined to comment on the details to Der Spiegel, but the magazine cited prosecutors’ spokesman Klaus Ziehe as saying that “all relevant witnesses are being questioned, regardless of their rank at VW.” The company also refused to comment.
Prosecutors in the city of Braunschweig, the same district where VW’s Wolfsburg-based headquarters are located, are investigating Mr. Winterkorn over possible fraud for concealing the emissions scandal and not having informed investors on time.
Mr. Winterkorn, who resigned September 25, 2015, days after the scandal broke, has denied the charges and said he only learned of the affair in early September 2015.
Mr. Piëch, who suddenly announced he had lost confidence in his former protégé Mr. Winterkorn in April 2015, told prosecutors he had learned from an insider at the end of February 2015 that there were indications VW had a large problem in the United States over software that manipulated emissions, Der Spiegel reported. U.S. authorities had forwarded details of their investigation to the company, the magazine said, citing Mr. Piëch’s testimony held at the end of last year with the Braunschweig prosecutors.
At the time, the then-chairman discussed the matter with Mr. Winterkorn, who denied that such a U.S. memo existed, according to Der Spiegel's account of Mr. Piëch’s testimony.
Gilbert Kreijger is an editor with Handelsblatt Global, covering companies and markets. Volker Votsmeier, an editor with Handelsblatt, contributed to this article. To contact the author: [email protected]