The Volkswagen emissions scandal reached the highest echelons of the company on Thursday after its former chief executive was charged with conspiracy in the company's rigging of diesel vehicles to feign compliance with federal pollution standards.
The charges stem from the VW Group diesel emissions scandal that broke in 2015.
According to the indictment, Winterkorn was told of the problem and questioned how US regulators were threatening to delay certifying 2016 cars for sale, at a July meeting in Wolfsburg, Germany, where the company is based, according to Bloomberg News. It is unclear, however, if German prosecutors are pursuing a parallel investigation that could lead to charges in the disgraced executive's home country. The memo also stated it was likely that authorities would investigate whether or not the vehicles contained defeat devices.
Volkswagen admitted to cheating emissions regulations in various markets, including the U.S., on a number of its diesel vehicles.
Volkswagen has been fined billions of dollars for using "defeat devices" in vehicles allowing them to circumvent USA emissions laws.
Winterkorn resigned in September of 2015 following revelations of the company's emissions cheating, in which the company configured as many as 11 million diesel-powered vehicles worldwide, including 600,000 in the United States, to emit up to 40 times the permissible levels of harmful nitrogen oxide but to hide this during testing.
Five other executives were charged in 2016.
VW pleaded guilty as a corporation in March, agreeing to pay a record $4.3bn in fines. Winterkorn in January 2017 told German lawmakers he had not been informed of the cheating early and would have halted it had he been aware, but he did not say when he first became aware of the issue.
In December 2017, Oliver Schmidt, a German citizen who ran VW's engineering office in MI, was sentenced to seven years in prison and fined $400,000 for his role in the scandal. One Italian citizen, a former Audi manager, is in Germany awaiting extradition. The scheme came undone when a company employee, in response to a regulator's questions, admitted that VW had been using software to cheat on emissions tests.
The indictment charges that Winterkorn then instructed Schmidt and another VW employee to continue to deceive U.S. regulators at a follow-up meeting in August, "using excuses such as "irregularities" and "abnormalities" for the discrepancy".
"Volkswagen deceived American regulators and defrauded American consumers for years", U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said. VW halted the sale of new diesels in the United States after the scandal.