Former VW CEO Martin Winterkorn indicted in MI

Martin Winterkorn

The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday disclosed the filing of criminal charges against former Volkswagen AG Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn, accusing him of conspiring to cover up the German automaker's diesel emissions cheating.

Winterkorn faces four counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and wire fraud. The charges were filed under seal in Detroit on March 14.

VW was not immediately available for comment. He is the highest-ranking person to be charged in the matter.

A spokeswoman for the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of MI in Detroit said Mr Winterkorn was not in custody. "These are serious allegations, and we will prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law".

Winterkorn, 70, is believed to be a resident of Germany.

The government says Volkswagen quickly learned about the results of the study and Bernd Gottweis, a senior manager who was responsible for product safety issues, met with employees of the engine development department to discuss it.

The 70-year-old resigned soon after the scandal over polluting vehicles in the United States became public in September 2015.

In the summer of 2015, months before the scandal broke, Winterkorn chaired a "damage table meeting" at Volkswagen's headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany where engine development staff delivered a presentation on how the company was deceiving USA regulators and what consequences the company would face if it were caught, according to the Justice Department.

In total, nine people have been charged and two former VW executives have pleaded guilty in the case and been sentenced to prison terms. They include executives who led engine development as well as the failed efforts to design a diesel engine that would meet the tougher emissions standards the United States adopted for 2007, as well as another liaison to U.S. regulators. The former CEO is also under investigation by German authorities.

News of the charges came on the same day as Volkswagen's annual meeting in Germany.

Winterkorn, who resigned in 2015 as the scandal was revealed, conspired to defraud the U.S. and violate the Clean Air Act, federal laws created to control air pollution, according to an indictment unsealed on Thursday in a MI federal court.

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