VW diesel-fraud trial starts over scandal that won’t go away

Four ex-Volkswagen Group managers stood trial in Germany accused of fraud for their part in the diesel-rigging scandal that cost the company billions and tarnished its reputation.

The trial — starting six years after the scandal broke — is the first criminal case to target executives at VW’s German headquarters who allegedly backed the idea of dodging emissions tests with a software trick.

The German legal system typically doesn’t allow public identification of those on trial.

The unnamed managers were charged in 2019 with having authorized that vehicles be equipped with a so-called “defeat device” that masked the actual emissions of the cars during testing. The case covers 9 million cars sold in Europe and the U.S.

“As executives, they were decisively responsible for the fact that emissions rules were transgressed in Europe and the U.S.,” prosecutors said at the start of the trial in Brunswick (Braunschweig in German) on Thursday. “The rules were in place to protect the environment and the health of people.”

Volkswagen settled the criminal probe three years ago by paying 1 billion euros to German prosecutors.

The diesel-emissions scandal has so far cost the automaker more than 30 billion euros ($35.3 billion), including hefty sanctions that were part of a deal with U.S. authorities.

The company is still facing civil litigation in its home country, including a 9 billion-euro investor class action.

The long-awaited trial has been postponed twice because of the coronavirus pandemic and hearings are expected to stretch into 2023.

The four managers will comment on the allegations later in the trial.

VW’s former CEO, Martin Winterkorn, was originally charged alongside the four ex-managers but his trial was postponed due to health reasons.

The 74-year-old has repeatedly denied the allegations.

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