'Dieselgate' trial opens in Germany without ex-VW boss

Frankfurt (AFP) –


The trial of four former Volkswagen managers accused of fraud in the "dieselgate" emissions-cheating scandal began on Thursday in the absence of the group's ex-boss.

The defendants allegedly organised commercial fraud and tax evasion in relation to the scandal which rocked the global car industry in September 2015, when Volkswagen admitted tampering with millions of diesel vehicles to dupe pollution tests.

Last week, the court decided to split proceedings, delaying the trial of Martin Winterkorn, the group's former CEO, for reasons of ill health.

Winterkorn, 74, was initially meant to stand trial alongside the other four executives but recently underwent an operation, leaving him unable to appear.

The hearing in Brunswick, not far from Volkswagen's corporate seat in Wolfsburg, is the second significant criminal trial in relation to the dieselgate scandal.

Another, involving Rupert Stadler, the former boss of Volkswagen subsidiary Audi, began a year ago and is still ongoing.

Judges will hope to pinpoint, among the company's engineers and directors, who was aware of the emissions-cheating software, when they knew, and who gave the green light to the plan involving "9 million vehicles sold in Europe and the US", according to the indictment.

Volkswagen has already paid out damages, refunds and court fees of around 30 billion euros ($35 billion) in relation to the scandal, mostly in the US.

Winterkorn himself has agreed to pay 11.2 million euros in damages and interest to his former employer in a settlement with Volkswagen.

The former CEO's hotly anticipated trial does not yet have a date, with medics unable to provide a clear timetable for his recovery, according to the court.

Winterkorn faces a separate charge in Berlin of giving false testimony to a parliamentary committee looking into the scandal.