The Munich Regional Court has sentenced the former Audi boss Rupert Stadler and two co-defendants to high suspended sentences for fraud. In addition, they have to pay a total of 1.5 million euros to the judiciary and non-profit organizations, the court decided on Tuesday after almost three years of trial. It is the first criminal judgment in Germany in the diesel scandal, which shook the entire industry and caused billions in damage.

All three defendants had confessed. The Economic Criminal Court sentenced Stadler to one year and nine months in prison on probation and payment of 1.1 million euros. He did not initiate the manipulation of the exhaust gas cleaning of large Audi diesel engines, but stopped the sale of the cars much too late. By July 2016 at the latest, he recognized that they “could contain functions that are critical to approval,” said presiding judge Stefan Weickert. Nevertheless, he did not inform the dealers and had sold 17,177 manipulated cars by the beginning of 2018. He is responsible for damage of 41 million euros.

Under pressure of time and success

According to the verdict, the former head of engine development and later Porsche board member Wolfgang Hatz and engineer P. ensured from 2008 that defeat devices were installed in the exhaust gas controls. The cars thus complied with limit values ​​on the test bench, but not on the road. The aim was to save the subsequent installation of larger AdBlue tanks for exhaust gas cleaning after the group’s technicians had miscalculated. At that time, the Volkswagen Group wanted to conquer the US market with the “Clean Diesel”. The developers were under time and pressure to succeed, and department manager P. demanded “intelligent solutions” from his employees in order to meet the expectations that could hardly be met.

Hatz was sentenced to a suspended sentence of two years and a payment of 400,000 euros, P. to a year and nine months of suspended sentence and a suspended sentence of 50,000 euros. The chamber charged them with damage of 2.3 billion euros, because the majority of the vehicles had been sold in the USA and, after the series of tricks had been uncovered, only had a scrap value under US law. For cars sold in Germany, the court only put a 5 percent loss in value.

The prosecution had already agreed to the probationary sentences for Stadler and P. as part of an agreement and only demanded a prison sentence without probation in the case of Hatz. The judgments are not yet final. At Hatz, the public prosecutor’s office will review the verdict and decide on appeals within a week, said spokeswoman Andrea Grape.

The process began in September 2020. In 171 days of negotiations, the chamber heard more than 190 witnesses and obtained four expert opinions. The proceedings against a fourth defendant were dropped in April against the payment of a monetary condition. He had been an engineer in P.’s department and, after an early confession, appeared as a key witness.

The 60-year-old Stadler has now been convicted as a fraudster, but can leave the court as a free man. For years he had maintained his innocence and said he had been duped by his technicians. It was only after the court had pointed out an impending prison sentence that he admitted in May that he had intervened too late, even with the European models, despite increasing evidence of trickery.

Stadler became head of the Ingolstadt VW subsidiary in 2007, succeeding Martin Winterkorn, who moved to the top of the group. From June 2018 he was in custody because of the risk of collusion – for four months until his resignation as Audi boss and VW board member. He has now paid 4.1 million euros in damages to the Volkswagen Group for breach of duty.

Investigations against nine other suspects

Public prosecutor Nico Petzka does not see the three defendants as primarily responsible for the diesel scandal. In his closing speech, he said it was doubtful whether there could ever be someone primarily responsible “when so many people involved in the company are going in the wrong direction.”

Four former top managers of the Volkswagen Group have been on trial in Braunschweig since September 2021 for possible fraud in the diesel affair. The case against Winterkorn is on hold due to illness.

The Munich public prosecutor’s office had already indicted four other former Audi managers in 2020 – three former colleagues on the board of Stadler and the long-standing head of the main diesel engine department at Audi. It is still unclear whether and when this process will begin. It could take place before the same chamber of Judge Weickert. The Munich public prosecutor’s office is still investigating nine other suspects.