The public appearances of the new “Mr. Volkswagen” are rare. Former VW boss Martin Winterkorn is expected in court in Braunschweig from Wednesday. The 76-year-old is expected to testify as a witness about the diesel affair, which cost him the executive chair at the Wolfsburg car manufacturer in 2015 a few days after it was exposed. What can be expected from his statement?
Even in the ninth year after emissions manipulation at Volkswagen became known, the question remains as to who knew what and when. Courts continue to try to clarify responsibility in complex proceedings. The Braunschweig Higher Regional Court is currently hearing around 80 witnesses, including several former VW CEOs, in the multi-billion dollar civil case surrounding possible claims for damages from investors.
After Herbert Diess and Matthias Müller, Winterkorn's appearance is expected this week. As a witness, he will be questioned about various allegations, some of which date back to 2007. Like every other witness in court, Winterkorn does not have to incriminate himself. Many other potential witnesses have invoked a comprehensive right to refuse to testify and do not want to testify in Braunschweig at all.
New medical report
Those close to him said Winterkorn would try to complete the planned interrogations in Braunschweig as best as possible. The former top manager, who lives in retirement in Munich, is doing well, even though several major operations have left their mark.
These impressions are consistent with the fact that, according to the Braunschweig Regional Court, there is a new medical report according to which Winterkorn should be able to stand trial again from September 2024. Some media had therefore reported on possible appearances as a defendant this year. “But there are no dates yet,” said a court spokesman.
In the first major criminal trial in Braunschweig, which has been taking place against four other ex-VW managers and engineers since September 2021, Winterkorn's complex was separated for health reasons. The regional court said that his proceedings are now in a different commercial criminal chamber. Before the turn of the year it was also announced that the proceedings against Winterkorn had been reopened on suspicion of market manipulation. There are no dates for this yet either.
Investors have been fighting for compensation since 2018
“We are excited,” said the plaintiffs about the upcoming Winterkorn survey in the investor process. “It is completely open what the statement can achieve,” said lawyer Axel Wegner. Because in Winterkorn's case, the risk of self-incrimination could quickly arise. Winterkorn's successors Matthias Müller and Herbert Diess denied any responsibility for the diesel scandal in their interviews.
In the proceedings under the Capital Investor Model Procedure Act (KapMug), investors have been fighting for damages since 2018 because they suffered billions in price losses after the scandal was exposed. The model plaintiff is Deka Investment, the defendants are Volkswagen AG and the umbrella holding company Porsche SE.
Winterkorn once said in retrospect that he had to accept that his “name is linked to the so-called diesel affair.” However, he did not want this to be seen as an admission of complicity in the emissions manipulation. He claimed that he had no knowledge of any illegal activity before the scandal became known.