Volkswagen will sue former CEO Martin Winterkorn for damages over the pollution scandal

Volkswagen announced that it would seek punitive damages from its former CEO and the head of its Audi division, accusing them of failing to act after finding that diesel vehicles sold in the United States were equipped with illegal emissions-cheating software.

The supervisory board of the German automaker has made a 180-degree switch. Volkswagen has been hesitant to publicly blame former top executives for the pollution scam, which has cost the company tens of billions of euros in penalties, settlements, and legal fees. At the same time, the supervisory board reported that other executives who were members of Volkswagen’s management board in September 2015, when the scandal broke, had committed “no violations of duty.”

Herbert Diess, the new CEO of Volkswagen, joined the company two months earlier from BMW. At the time, Hans Dieter Pötsch, the current chairman of the supervisory board, was the company’s chief financial officer and a member of the Volkswagen management board, a position he had held for more than a decade. After learning about the misconduct in July 2015, Volkswagen’s supervisory board said in a statement on Friday that a law firm hired to investigate facts in the case found that Martin Winterkorn, the former CEO, failed “to comprehensively and promptly explain the circumstances behind the use of illegal software functions.”

Mr. Winterkorn, who resigned soon after the pollution fraud was uncovered, also failed to ensure that questions from US authorities were “answered truthfully, absolutely, and promptly,” according to the supervisory board. The board confirmed that shareholders incurred losses as a result but did not indicate how much money the company would aim to recoup. Mr. Winterkorn and Mr. Stadler are also facing criminal charges in Germany arising from the same incidents. Mr. Winterkorn’s trial was supposed to begin in April, but it was postponed this week due to the pandemic, according to the judges.

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