The head of Volkswagen AG’s Audi brand was named a suspect in a Munich probe of diesel rigging, placing another senior executive under a cloud of suspicion almost three years after the company admitted to cheating on emissions tests.
The homes of Rupert Stadler and another Audi board member were raided Monday, prosecutors said in an e-mailed statement. The identity of the second board member, who was also added as a suspect, wasn’t disclosed. Both are being investigated for fraud and falsifying public documents relating to sales of diesel cars in Europe.
VW has faced a barrage of investigations and lawsuits since U.S. authorities disclosed in September 2015 that the carmaker had rigged engines on 11 million diesel models to cheat on emissions tests. The company has earmarked more than 25 billion euros (US$29.5 billion) to pay fines, settlements and other costs since the scandal came to light.
Audi, Volkswagen’ largest earnings contributor, has been linked to all three German criminal probes into diesel rigging. Stadler has previously been implicated by two engineers who are also under investigation. Monday’s announcement comes only a month after Audi was raided for a third time.
Two former managers at the luxury carmaker are being held in pre-trial detention in Munich. Among them is Giovanni Pamio, who has testified about the rigging allegation at Audi. The Munich probe now extends to 20 people linked to the company.
VW spokesman Nicolai Laude said the company won’t comment on open investigations. A spokesman for Audi says the company is fully cooperating with authorities. Stadler’s lawyer, Thilo Pfordte, didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment.
Stadler, who added the title of head of group sales at VW in April, is the only active company board member who is a target in a probe directly tied to the diesel rigging allegations. VW CEO Herbert Diess is being looked at in a different probe over market-manipulation allegations for failing to disclose the scandal to investors at an early stage. Diess has denied the allegations.
Stadler, who became Audi chief in 2007 and joined Volkwagen’s executive board in 2010, survived several recent management overhauls despite emerging allegations that he was informed about the scam.
Nearly three years on from the scandal, a suspicion over emissions practices continues to envelop the industry. Daimler AG CEO Dieter Zetsche on Monday is meeting for the second time in as many weeks with Germany’s transport ministry to explain irregularities in its exhaust setups in diesel engines.
By Karin Matussek