Former Volkswagen AG head Martin Winterkorn and four others must stand trial over serious fraud charges in Germany for their role in the diesel-rigging scandal that cost the carmaker more than 30 billion euros ($35 billion).
The former chief executive officer and other managers were charged last year with equipping vehicles sold to customers with a so-called defeat device. A court in Braunschweig, Germany allowed the case to proceed Wednesday, but modified some of the charges, saying the suspects could also be tried for acting as a criminal gang.
“The fraud charges concern 9 million vehicles sold in Europe and the US,” the court said in an emailed statement. “Buyers may have lost 100 million euros.”
Winterkorn’s lawyer Felix Doerr welcomed that the court reduced the charges against his clients, making them much narrower.
The court said it dropped breach of trust and some minor charges against Winterkorn. The judges told prosecutors that they are also likely to reject their demand to have executive’s bonuses seized as part of the case.
“It’s not the accused who pocketed something from the actions, but the carmakers,” the court said.
Volkswagen said the ruling is another step toward coming to terms with the scandal. It said it’s cooperating with the authorities.
The company two years ago found a way out of the probe, paying 1 billion euros to settle with prosecutors.
Alongside the fraud charges, the accused will be tried on tax-evasion allegations. Since the cars received tax breaks for their seemingly reduced emissions, the government lost out on 820,000 euros, according to the statement.
The court is now in talks with prosecution and defense to organize trial details before scheduling dates for the hearings.