Tech

Emissions scandal: Tougher trial of the Audi diesel fraud

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Former Audi boss Rupert Stadler has been on trial in Munich since September 2020. The prosecution accuses him of fraud by selling diesel cars with manipulated emissions. But Stadler still plays no role in the process to this day. So far, the focus of the taking of evidence has been the three co-accused engine developers.

“So far it was only about data and technical applications,” said court spokesman Florian Gliwitzky. The former Audi engine boss and later Porsche board member Wolfgang Hatz and two leading Audi engineers are said to have manipulated more than 400,000 diesel engines from 2008 onwards so that they pass emissions tests but emit more nitrogen oxides on the road. The two engineers have at least largely confessed, but see themselves more as recipients of orders. Hatz rejects any involvement in software trickery. That happened after his time at Audi.

Surprises are hardly to be expected from the technicians on the witness stand: They described their work. “You had already testified in the preliminary investigation,” said Gliwitzky. The taking of evidence is tough, tedious and painstaking detailed work, according to the defense lawyers. Many witnesses could no longer remember events from 2008 onwards with sufficient accuracy. Those involved in the process, including the lay judges, have to read hundreds of documents and minutes. Who exactly developed which programs and when? A court-appointed expert could bring more clarification before the summer break in August, so the hope.

Stadler was arrested three years ago, in June 2018, as CEO because of the risk of blackout, was in custody for four months and has now been in the courtroom in the basement of the Munich-Stadelheim prison on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for nine months. The 58-year-old is not allowed to have contact with former colleagues and employees. Stadler is said to have learned of the exhaust gas trickery after the scandal was uncovered by the US environmental authority in autumn 2015, but it was not until much later that the production and sale of manipulated cars in Europe stopped.

On January 12th, the criminal chamber gave him the floor. Then he accused the technicians of having duped him. He also accused the public prosecutor of having used him politically and as a figurehead for the process. Since then he has been a marginal figure in the process.

In a few weeks, however, things could get more exciting for him again. Witnesses from the marketing department should report what they knew, how to react to the missing emissions values ​​and what was told to the public. Fraud, indirect false certification and criminal advertising, these are the charges against Stadler. His defense lawyers expect the proceedings could be about him in the autumn.

The only problem is: subordinate employees usually didn’t know that much. But anyone who has known and overlooked the dichotomy between reality and appearance, between engine technology and marketing, could refuse to testify as a suspect in case of doubt.

After the summer break, public interest is likely to shift to Braunschweig anyway, where the trial of former VW CEO Martin Winterkorn will begin on September 16. In Munich, it is not even half-time: the process should go until December 20, 2022.

How expensive the diesel affair will be for the car bosses, they will already know in four weeks after the decision of the VW general meeting on the planned settlement. Winterkorn is supposed to transfer 11.2 million privately to VW, Stadler 4.1 million, Hatz 1.5 million. That would be the end of the line, at least under civil law. Because additional claims would be excluded, regardless of what follows criminally.


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