Things have become quieter around former Volkswagen boss Herbert Diess. Since he was replaced as head of the largest German car manufacturer, appearances have been rare. The same applies to his predecessors Matthias Müller and Martin Winterkorn. Now the diesel affair is coming back into focus for the three of them. The Braunschweig Higher Regional Court (OLG) wants to hear you as a witness in the billion-dollar investor trial. An overview.

Investor process

In the investor proceedings against the Volkswagen Group and the umbrella holding company Porsche SE at the Braunschweig Higher Regional Court, damages have been fought for since 2018. Investors suffered billions in price losses after the “Dieselgate” incident was exposed. After almost five years of proceedings, the court announced in July 2023 that it would hear from more than 80 witnesses.

The long list of witnesses includes the names of the former VW CEOs Diess, Müller and Winterkorn. Diess is to be questioned on Tuesday, January 16th, Müller has been summoned for February 7th and Winterkorn is initially scheduled to be questioned on February 14th and 15th.

It is part of a witness’s duties to appear in court, said a spokeswoman on the question of whether the top managers have to come to Braunschweig in the next few weeks. According to her, it is not foreseeable whether and in what form there will be statements.

The trial is not about convictions, but rather about investors’ chances of receiving compensation. In the complex procedure according to the Capital Investor Model Procedure Act (KapMug), central questions from many similar cases are to be decided in advance by the next higher authority. If a model decision is available, it is binding for the courts in all proceedings.

Regardless of which big names are asked to testify in the investor process, Volkswagen will stick to its own view of the process. “We continue to be of the opinion that VW AG has fully fulfilled its obligations under capital market law in connection with the diesel issue,” said a company spokesman.

Market manipulation

Almost at the same time as the summonses for the model trial, it became known at the end of December that Winterkorn was still facing accusations of market manipulation. The Braunschweig regional court announced at the time that criminal proceedings due to a possible violation of the Securities Trading Act would be resumed. The public prosecutor’s office charged him in 2019. He is accused of intentionally not informing the capital market in a timely manner despite better knowledge.

At the beginning of 2021, the Commercial Criminal Chamber temporarily closed these proceedings. In view of the expected higher punishment in the trial for commercial fraud, a possible conviction would not be significant, the reason given was. This view has obviously changed now. The court explained the reopening by saying that a punishment could have an impact. In addition, the fraud allegation has not yet been brought against Winterkorn for health reasons.

In addition to Winterkorn, supervisory board chairman Hans Dieter Pötsch and Diess were also charged with alleged market manipulation. In spring 2020, the proceedings against the two were ended in return for a cash payment of 4.5 million euros each from Volkswagen to the Lower Saxony state treasury. As part of the non-public interim proceedings, the regional court agreed with those involved to discontinue the case subject to conditions. There are no dates yet for the trial against Winterkorn in this complex.

Fraud process

The same still applies to the fraud allegations that are considered more serious. In the first major trial, Winterkorn, as one of five defendants, does not yet have to defend himself. Shortly before the start in September 2021, the Braunschweig regional court separated its part of the proceedings for health reasons.

The trial against the four other executives began without Winterkorn and has now lasted more than two years. The defendants are a former head of development for the VW core brand and three high-ranking employees from engine and drive technology, and they continue to face long prison sentences.

Several charges have now been filed in the fraud complex and further investigations are ongoing. In mid-December, the Braunschweig regional court approved charges against seven of the company’s employees. They are accused of fraud in a particularly serious case and of violating the law against unlawful competition. There is also possible tax evasion for some of the defendants.

According to the media report, Winterkorn is ready to testify

The scandal was exposed in September 2015 when the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported manipulation of diesel car emissions tests. CEO Winterkorn resigned and an industrial crisis of unprecedented proportions began. According to the company, the processing costs have long since exceeded the 30 billion euro mark. Winterkorn rejected the allegations against him.

It is eagerly awaited whether he will actually come to the investor process in Braunschweig. According to a media report from the end of December, the 76-year-old is said to have declared himself willing to testify in the investor process. However, with the restriction of relying on the right to refuse to testify, there should be a risk of criminal prosecution for certain statements.