WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday disclosed the filing of criminal charges against former Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn, accusing him of conspiring to cover up the German automaker’s diesel emissions cheating.
The indictment, filed in secret in March, was unsealed in U.S. District Court on Thursday as Volkswagen held its annual meeting in Germany. Winterkorn resigned days after the scandal over polluting vehicles in the United States became public in September 2015.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Environmental Protection Administration chief Scott Pruitt and other senior Trump administration official issued statements criticizing VW with the indictment, which marks a rare instance of a CEO being subjected to criminal prosecution for corporate behavior.
“If you try to deceive the United States, then you will pay a heavy price,” Sessions said.
In contrast with Volkswagen, no individuals were charged at Toyota Motor Corp in connection with its sudden unintended acceleration scandal or at General Motors Co for the cover-up of a deadly ignition switch defect.
The federal government’s decisions not to prosecute senior financial industry executives in connection with the 2007-2009 financial crisis also has drawn fire from advocates of tougher measures to deter corporate wrongdoing.
The U.S. indictment of Winterkorn is likely to be largely symbolic. As a German citizen, he is almost certain not to come to the United States and to seek protection under German extradition law. The former CEO is also under investigation by German authorities.
Volkswagen settled criminal charges with the U.S. Justice Department in 2017 and agreed to a $4.3 billion payment. In total,