More than five years after the diesel scandal broke up, the VW group is demanding compensation from its former boss Martin Winterkorn and ex-Audi boss Rupert Stadler. The company announced this on Friday after a meeting of the supervisory board. Volkswagen stated that the two former top managers will now be “sued for damages for breaches of stock corporation law”. This should “draw a line” under the extensive processing of the scandal. The law firm Gleiss Lutz advised the VW supervisory board on this topic and presented its final report this week.
It is still unclear what financial extent the claims could have. Those familiar with the facts of the matter assume that the former board members do not want to be burdened in complete excess. These claims may also be covered by special manager policies, so-called D&O insurances.
The subject of the company’s internal investigations was whether Winterkorn, Stadler and possibly other executives at the time were to be accused of negligent management and control failures before the affair was discovered in September 2015 – which ultimately enabled or at least could not have prevented the manipulation of millions of diesel cars worldwide.
As a result of this investigation, “according to the supervisory board’s conviction”, it was established that Winterkorn had violated his duty of care by failing to clarify the background to the use of impermissible software functions in the summer of 2015. Rupert Stadler violated his duties of care because he failed to explain the manipulation after the scandal was exposed.
In September 2015, investigations by US authorities revealed that Volkswagen cars on the road had far higher emissions than on test benches. It was then revealed that several models of the group brands around the world had been affected by these manipulations.
In a communication, the lawyers von Winterkorn, Kersten von Schenck and Felix Dörr stated that their client regretted the decision of the supervisory board. He rejects the allegation made against him and is convinced that he has done everything to reduce the damage. Stadler’s side had not yet issued a statement, but he had recently entered the court on this point.
During the investigation, thoroughness was paramount over speed
The Volkswagen Group took a lot of time to make this decision, namely over five years. For comparison: In the billions-worth bribe scandal at Siemens, the then responsible CEO, Heinrich von Pierer, was taken into recourse after less than two years, he ultimately paid five million euros. Why does it take so long at VW? Because there was so much material to sift through, it is now said by Volkswagen. The rule was: thoroughness over speed. So far, the reading in Wolfsburg, referring to Winterkorn and his ex-colleague, Audi boss Rupert Stadler, was primarily that they wanted to wait for the outcome of the diesel criminal proceedings.
The one against Stadler started last autumn in Munich, the one against Winterkorn will start this autumn in Braunschweig – after a corona-related postponement. Up until the diesel scandal broke up, both managers made a name for themselves in the financial success of the group, something that is emphasized there time and again. And both have so far rejected all allegations. How the courts will decide in the proceedings that will probably last for years is open.
But the former employer obviously doesn’t want to wait any longer. The VW supervisory board announced that the investigation into the causes of and responsible for the “diesel crisis”, which was initiated in October 2015, is now being ended. Obviously also at the risk that these claims for damages from disappointed buyers will be boosted. So far, Volkswagen has had to pay 32 billion euros to clean up the scandal.