Status: 14.09.2021 8:10 a.m.
Shortly before the start of the fraud process leading to the VW diesel scandal, one of those involved first spoke about his involvement in the affair in a TV interview. He described to the NDR what specifications he should have received from VW.
“I didn’t tell the US authorities everything I knew. That was my undoing,” said Oliver Schmidt, the former head of the VW environmental bureau in the USA, describing his role in the VW diesel scandal.
Script for talks in the USA?
In an interview with the NDR the ex-VW manager claims that he received an order from VW in the summer of 2015 to negotiate with the US environmental authorities. He shouldn’t use certain words. In particular, when describing the software function for exhaust gas treatment that was installed in the VW diesel vehicles, he should not speak of a “defeat device”, i.e. an illegal test detection.
“There were conversations where I was told what to say. It was like a funnel. It got narrower and narrower. There was a script of what I should say and what I shouldn’t say. Among other things, I should use this word Don’t say ‘defeat device’. ” Schmidt reports that the instructions were discussed in a round with senior managers and the legal department. VW does not want to comment on individual cases.
“Avoid” follow-up measurements by the US authorities
Shortly before that, a meeting with Martin Winterkorn, the VW CEO at the time, had taken place at the so-called damage table. It should have been discussed how VW wanted to explain the unusually high nitrogen oxides in their diesel vehicles to the US authorities. In a presentation that is said to have been discussed with Winterkorn, it was said that VW wanted to only “partially” reveal the truth and “avoid” follow-up measurements by the US authorities. Winterkorn denies having been informed about the fraud at the appointment. He only found out about this several weeks later, in autumn 2015.
Diesel scandal in the VW group: criminal trial begins
Torben Börgers, NDR, morning magazine, September 14, 2021
After increased nitrogen oxides had been found in VW diesel vehicles in the USA, VW had concealed the existence of illegal test detection from US environmental authorities for more than a year. That is why the fines were so high, said Hiltrud Werner, VW Board Member for Integrity and Law. For a long time the managers “massively underestimated” the consequences of their actions. “It’s like driving at two per thousand and 250 km / h on the autobahn and thinking that you get a ticket as if you had parked incorrectly.”
Group of engineers should be responsible
Just a few days after the scandal became known on September 18, 2015, the VW supervisory board had claimed that Winterkorn, as the chairman of the board at the time, had no knowledge of the manipulation of the emissions values. Rather, a group of engineers is responsible for developing the manipulation software and installing it in millions of vehicles.
Werner defends this representation to this day. “With 600,000 employees, 100 is a small group,” she told the NDR in an interview. The Braunschweig public prosecutor’s office has now brought more than 30 indictments and is investigating a further 70 people.
Terminations and claims for damages
Oliver Schmidt was sentenced to seven years in prison in the United States for fraud in 2017. In 2020 he was transferred to the Uelzen JVA in Germany. He has been paroled since January 2021. VW has given him notice. VW has also given notice to some of the other engineers involved and has demanded millions in damages from them.
In the labor courts, however, the group failed in most cases with these dismissals. In one case, the Lower Saxony State Labor Court ruled in the final instance in August 2021 that the dismissed VW employee, who was the head of the diesel engine development department, had done everything that was necessary under labor law to prevent damage. He had informed several of his superiors about the use of the manipulation software.
The court does not see employees responsible
VW had denied that supervisors had been informed but did not provide any evidence. In addition, the court says the employee had neither the responsibility nor the competence to prevent the use of the software. The decision was made at a higher level. Even if the manipulation software is not disclosed to the US authorities, the employee is not to be blamed. Rather, the chamber assumes that the non-disclosure was decided by the employee’s superiors.
In another proceeding, VW withdrew the notice and continues to employ the employee in a managerial position. VW did not terminate the former head of the software department, but released him with full pay.