Volkswagen former chief executive officer Martin Winterkorn was charged in a MI federal court with conspiracy and wire fraud in relation to a probe into the German automaker's efforts to cheat USA diesel emissions testing, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday.
According to documents which surfaced on Thursday, the charges against Winterkorn were filed in March but were only unsealed this week.
"The indictment unsealed today alleges that Volkswagen's scheme to cheat its legal requirements went all the way to the top of the company", said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a written statement. Less than one month later, on September 3rd 2015, Volkswagen admitted to using defeat devices.
"If you try to deceive the United States, then you will pay a heavy price", Sessions said.
The charges have been filed accusing him of a conspiracy to cover up the Volkswagen Group's emissions cheating between 2006 and 2015 when it was finally uncovered.
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He becomes the highest-ranking executive to be charged over "dieselgate" - a scheme where VW used software to trick government emissions testers.
"The indictment of former VW CEO Martin Winterkorn should send a clear message that EPA and its law enforcement partners will seek to hold corporate officers accountable for alleged criminal activities at their company", said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Volkswagen admitted the existence of the devices in 2015 during an investigation by the United States environment watchdog and Mr Winterkorn resigned soon after.
In total, VW has agreed to spend more than US$25 billion in the USA to address claims from owners, environmental regulators, states and dealers.
Two have so far pleaded guilty and are serving time in prison.
Winterkorn may never actually face the music in the USA because Germany typically does not extradite its citizens for trials outside of the European Union.
The indictment reopens the question of whether other senior VW executives knew about the scandal, which threatens to prolong the crisis.