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Volkswagen mulls legal action against former boss

Volkswagen is considering legal action against its former chief executive Martin Winterkorn for negligence over his part in the Dieselgate emissions scandal, a spokesman for the company said on Sunday.
Mr Winterkorn is already facing criminal charges in the US over his role in the affair, although the case is unlikely to go to trial as Germany does not extradite its citizens.
But a civil lawsuit from VW could potentially ruin him, according to German legal experts who said the company could seek damages of more than €100m (?88m).
“The investigation has been going on for quite some while and is conducted independently of the authorities’ investigation,” Michael Brendel, a spokesman for the VW supervisory board, said.
Mr Winterkorn was VW chief executive in 2015 when it emerged that the company had rigged software on 11m cars to enable them to cheat emissions tests. He initially tried to cling on to his position but resigned five days later saying he was “utterly sorry”.
Invetsigations over his role in the affair in the US and Germany have centred on how much he knew about the emissions rigging. He has always maintained he was completely unaware it was going on and that he resigned because he “accepted responsibility for the irregularities” as chief executive.
Q&A | Volkswagen’s “dieselgate” emissions scandal
He said he had decided to step down “in the interests of the company even though I am not aware of any wrongdoing on my part”. He declined to comment yesterday [SUN] on the possibility he could be sued by his former employer.
German legal experts said last week’s decision by US prosecutors to unseal criminal charges of conspiracy and wire fraud against Mr Winterkorn over the affair had left him exposed to a civil lawsuit.
“With the charges in America, Winterkorn’s fate has taken a dramatic turn,” Prof Gregor Bachmann told Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntasgzeitung newspaper.
Volkswagen mulls legal action against former boss

Former Volkswagen boss Martin Winterkorn

Credit:
JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP
Under German law, managers can be held liable not only for harm caused to a company by their own direct actions, but also for any failure of internal control mechanisms.
VW could seek to hold him liable for any losses caused by “negligent breach of duty”. The scandal has already cost the company €25.8bn (?22.8bn) and it is facing a €10bn lawsuit from shareholders in Germany.
Unlike in a criminal case, the burden of proof would be on Mr Winterkorn to prove he did everything possible to detect wrongdoing at the company and punish those responsible.
The former chief executive was paid more than €100m during his time working at VW, and is currently entitled to an additional €30m (?27m) pension.
“In a worst case scenario, all this money would be gone,” Prof Bachmann said.
Mr Winterkorn faces a possible 25 years in jail under the US charges. American prosecutors last week issued a warrant for Mr Winterkorn’s arrest and branded him a fugitive from justice. While he is safe from extradition as long as he remains in Germany, he could face arrest if he leaves the country.
He also faces a possible criminal case in Germany, where prosecutors say they are still investigating the case.
How the Volkswagen scandal unfolded
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