Ferdinand Piech vanished from the corporate scene for almost two years after abruptly departing Volkswagen AG, the carmaker his grandfather built. Now heâ€™s looking to settle old scores.
Piech, Volkswagenâ€™s former chief executive officer, chairman and one of its biggest shareholders, has rekindled accusations that top managers knew about falsified emissions tests months before publicly admitting to it. The claims, appearing in a Bild article late on Wednesday, risk hurting the companyâ€™s reputation and legal standing.
Finger-pointing within Volkswagen is escalating as investigators work to determine who knew what, and when, about software that was installed in 11 million vehicles worldwide to deceive emissions testers. Piech, 79, a scion of Volkswagenâ€™s founding Porsche family, had been largely absent from public wrangling after losing a power struggle with then-CEO Martin Winterkorn six months before the scandal broke.
The diesel crisis has already
cost the automaker more than $23 billion in North American fines, buybacks and other charges. Volkswagen rebuffed Piechâ€™s accusations late on Wednesday, stating that the former chairman already made those claims in an independent investigation last year, but that they had at the time been â€œclassified as implausibleâ€ by examiners at US law firm Jones Day.
â€œThe board of management will carefully weigh the possibility of measures and claims against
Piech,â€ Volkswagenâ€™s supervisory board said in the statement, hinting that it could file a criminal complaint against him for false testimony. The company decli-
ned to elaborate as investigations are ongoing.
While Winterkorn was forced to step down in disgrace once the cheating became public in September 2015 and management was reshuffled, few of the companyâ€™s top executives have so far been directly implicated.
Volkswagen lost more than 40 percent of its market value in the weeks after the cheating became public. Investors in the US and Europe have filed lawsuits arguing that they lost money because the company was too slow in disclosing the issue. Volkswagenâ€™s defense has been that top managers didnâ€™t know the extent of the issue, so any evidence to the contrary, from a former insider with Piechâ€™s standing, could weaken their argument.
Germanyâ€™s Bild newspaper reported Wednesday that Piech
told German prosecutors in Braunschweig that after learning about possible cheating on VWâ€™s diesel engines in February 2015, he
informed Winterkorn and subsequently supervisory board members, including Stephan Weil, prime minister of the German state of Lower Saxony, works council chief Bernd Osterloh, former IG Metall union head Berthold Huber and Wolfgang Porsche. Piech stepped down as chairman in April 2015.
In January, German prosecutors extended a criminal probe of
Volkswagenâ€™s diesel-emissions cheating to Winterkorn as they almost doubled the number of people being investigated in the scandal
to 37 people.
Winterkorn is already among VW executives targeted in a separate probe of market manipulation. Winterkorn, in his first public appearance since being forced to resign, in January told a parliamentary committee in Berlin that he wasnâ€™t aware of the cheating and that he would have put an end to it if
Weil reiterated in a statement that he only learned about manipulation on September 19, 2015. â€œAny other description is plain wrong,â€ he said. A spokesman for Wolfgang Porsche referred to statement by VWâ€™s supervisory board. Huber and Osterloh said in a joint statement that Piechâ€™s allegation â€œis untrue.â€ â€œWe expect that the management board examines in due course if it needs to take actions against Piech,â€ Huber and Osterloh said.