Shortly after the United States formally accused former CEO of Volkswagen Martin Winterkorn of criminal wrongdoing related to the company’s diesel emission scandal, it decided to let the company’s new boss know that he’s safe to visit whenever he likes.Â The U.S. Justice Department has agreed to give Herbert Diess a safe-passage deal that allows him to travel without fear of being arrested.
Diess was also given the country’s assurance that he’ll be given advance notice if prosecutors eventually decide to charge him over the emissions cheating issue. So far as we know, no such deal exists for his predecessor,Â Matthias MÃ¼ller, who replacedÂ Winterkorn inÂ September of 2015.Â
While the arrangement is supposed to be confidential, BloombergÂ reported thatÂ two people familiar with the matter have confirmed its existence. “This is certainly a unique situation, and there are likely facts that the general public is not aware of that would allow for such an arrangement,” saidÂ formal federal prosecutor Michael Koenig.
SinceÂ Diess joined VW shortly before the scandal became public knowledge, there is little reason to assume he was involved in theÂ subterfuge. However, he was in attendance for a July 27, 2015 meeting where U.S. emissions irregularities were explained to senior managers. That gathering is believed to have been the moment when Winterkorn “approved the continued concealment of the cheating software from U.S. regulators.”
Being privy to that meeting may mean Diess has important information. TheÂ safe-passage deal may even have hinged upon him sharing some of that information. Witnesses and subjects of investigations are sometimes guaranteed safe travel so they can testify. Still, sources have already saidÂ Diess didnâ€™t help with the case against Winterkorn.Â So authorities are presumably holding out hopes that he’ll want to talk later and/or have already cleared him of any criminal involvement worthy of arrest.
How involved Diess was in the emissions scandal is unclear, though. It’s unlikely he played any role in the decision to implement defeat devices in VW Group cars, but he may have withheld information about a corporate cover-up. In Germany, he’s under investigation for market manipulation, but so are a gaggle of other high-ranking Volkswagen employees. The most we can assume is that he’s a person of interest right now.
[Image: Volkswagen Group]