An indictment, unsealed Thursday, charges former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn with conspiracy and wire fraud relating to the company’s long-running emissions-cheating scandal.  

The superseding indictment was issued by a federal grand jury sitting in the Eastern District of Michigan and charges Winterkorn with four counts of violating federal law. The first count charges that Winterkorn conspired with other senior Volkswagen executives and employees to defraud the United States, defraud Volkswagen’s U.S. customers, and violate the Clean Air Act by making false representations to regulators and the public about the ability of Volkswagen’s supposedly “clean diesel” vehicles to comply with U.S. emissions requirements. The remaining three counts charge Winterkorn with wire fraud relating to the scheme. 

Winterkorn’s indictment represents the most recent charges in an ongoing investigation by U.S. criminal authorities into what the Department of Justice referred to as “unprecedented” emissions cheating by Volkswagen. He is the highest-ranking VW official to have been charged. (Last year, Oliver Schmidt, the former general manager of Volkswagen AG’s U.S. Environment and Engineering Office, was sentenced to seven years in prison for his role in the scandal.)

Winterkorn served as Volkswagen's CEO from 2007-2015. He resigned in September of that year, shortly after U.S. authorities disclosed the company's wrongdoing. At the time, Winterkorn denied knowing that Volkswagen had cheated emissions tests.  

Volkswagen pleaded guilty in March 2017 to criminal charges that it deceived U.S. regulatory agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB), by installing so-called defeat devices in diesel vehicles emissions control systems that were designed to cheat emissions tests.

As Compliance Week previously reported, the wrongdoing dates to 2008, when several top managers who painstakingly spent several years developing what was to be VW’s most important new diesel engine, realized these engines were not able to meet U.S. emissions standards. Not wanting to halt production and toss years of investment down the drain, managers decided instead to evade emissions standards.

As part of its plea agreement with the Department of Justice, Volkswagen paid a $2.8 billion criminal penalty. It also agreed to the imposition of an independent corporate compliance monitor for the duration of its probation, which is at least three years.  Subsequently, Larry Thompson was appointed as Volkswagen’s monitor.