German prosecutors announced Monday that they have begun a criminal investigation of Martin Winterkorn, the former Volkswagen CEO who stepped down last week amid a widening scandal involving the automaker's use of technology that cheats emissions tests.
The investigation will focus on whether fraud was committed through the sale of diesel-powered vehicles that claimed to be eco-friendly by highlighting manipulated emissions data. It also aims to find out who had knowledge of and was responsible for the emissions-rigging.
According to The Associated Press:
"In the German system, anyone can file a criminal complaint with prosecutors, who are then obliged to examine it and decide whether there is enough evidence to open a formal investigation.
"In this case, following the revelations about the rigged tests, prosecutors in Braunschweig, near VW's headquarters in Wolfsburg, received about a dozen complaints, including one from Volkswagen itself, said spokeswoman Julia Meyer.
"She said it was too early to say if and when prosecutors may try and interview Winterkorn himself, and that she did not know whether he already had an attorney to represent him."
When he resigned last week, Winterkorn apologized for the company's misconduct but maintained he had no knowledge of the emissions-duping technology. He said at the time that he was "stunned that misconduct on such a scale was possible in the Volkswagen Group."
As we reported last week, Volkswagen has named Matthias Mueller, head of VW's Porsche sports-car division, as the company's new chief executive.
The so-called defeat device was built into some 11 million Volkswagen vehicles worldwide, nearly 500,000 of which are in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Germany's transport minister has said some 2.8 million vehicles are affected in that country.
"In the days since the revelation, VW has become the subject of a criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and is being investigated by several environmental regulators in the U.S., Europe and Asia. Sales of VW models affected by the software have been halted in some countries."