Former CEO of Volkswagen Martin Winterkorn has been indicted as were five other former executives with VW on Thursday. The six were charged with fraud and conspiracy in connection with a scheme in which the German automaker used software in diesel engines to cheat auto emissions tests.
Winterkorn, who was CEO at VW between 2007 and 2015, becomes the highest profile person charged in the scandal that forced his resignation.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on announcing the indictments said if you attempt to deceive the U.S. you pay a big price. The indictment that was unsealed on Thursday alleges that VW’s scheme to cheat legal requirements reached the top of the company.
The U.S. government alleges that former VW executives Heinz-Jakob Neusser, Richard Dorenkamp, Jens Hadler, Juergen Peter and Bernd Gottweis had knowledge that the cheating was taking place and that the CEO gave consent to the cheating scheme and then misled regulators.
Winterkorn, who is 70, was listed on an indictment for the first time with the five other former VW executives originally charged two years ago.
Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to installing cheating software in diesel vehicles. The software allowed vehicles to know when an emissions test was being conducted and would turn pollution controls on when the vehicle was being tested and then turn off while in normal operation.
During June of 2016, Volkswagen was ordered by the Federal Trade Commission to pay fines of $20 billion and invest in new green technologies like electric powered school buses and electric vehicle charging stations, making the scandal the largest consumer fraud case in the history of the federal agency.
The automaker through a prepared statement said it continues to fully cooperate with the Justice Department’s investigations into individual’s conduct and it would not be appropriate to make any comment on the ongoing cases.
At the same time, a member of an ecology group said that as long as leaders at VW were being investigated and held responsible, it did not matter as much if the company does well as long as they are selling cleaner vehicles.
VW said it is continuing to fully cooperate as the new CEO at the company Herbert Diess this week told company shareholders that Volkswagen much become more open, truthful and honest.