The former chief executive of Volkswagen has been indicted in a federal court in the US city of Detroit over diesel emissions scandal.
Martin Winterkorn is charged with three counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiring to violate the Clean Air Act, court papers showed Thursday.
The indictment brings the American criminal case to the uppermost levels of Volkswagen, which pleaded guilty last year to lying to the country’s environmental regulators about emission control systems.
“If you try to deceive the United States, then you will pay a heavy price,” US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.
“The indictment unsealed today alleges that Volkswagen’s scheme to cheat its legal requirements went all the way to the top of the company.”
The indictment alleges that the automaker’s top executive at the time knew about the plot.
Volkswagen has admitted to programming its diesel engines to activate pollution controls when being tested in government labs and turning them off when on the road.
After being informed of the existence of the emissions software in the summer of 2015, Schmidt conspired with other executives to avoid disclosing “intentional cheating” by the automaker in a bid to seek regulatory approval for its model 2016 VW 2 liter diesel vehicles.
And following the meeting, Winterkorn authorized the company to continue lying to American authorities.
Schmidt was working at the company’s Wolfsburg, Germany, headquarters as “one of three subordinates” to the head of engine development.
Following revelations of the company’s emissions cheating, Winterkorn resigned in September of 2015. His company configured as many as 11 million diesel-powered vehicles globally to emit up to 40 times the permissible levels of harmful nitrogen oxide but to hide this during testing.
With Winterkorn believed to be in Germany, it’s unlikely he’ll ever see the inside of a US courtroom or jail. Germany does not typically allow extradition of its citizens to other countries.