German prosecutors have expanded a probe into Volkswagen’s emissions test-cheating scandal and said the carmaker’s former CEO may have known about the manipulation earlier than he claims.
Prosecutors in Braunschweig near Volkswagen’s (VW) Wolfsburg base said on Friday that 28 homes and offices were searched this week in connection with the investigation into the ‘dieselgate’ scandal.
They said they had increased the number of people accused in connection with the scandal to 37 from 21, including former chief executive Martin Winterkorn.
Prosecutors said they were investigating Winterkorn on suspicion of fraud. The former CEO is already being probed by Braunschweig prosecutors over possible market manipulation.
VW has said its executive board did not learn of the software violations until late August 2015 and formally reported the cheating to U.S. authorities in early September that year.
Winterkorn told a German parliamentary committee of inquiry into the scandal on Jan. 19 that he did not know about the software cheating earlier.
On Thursday, Volkswagen announced the unexpected departure of compliance chief Christine Hohmann-Dennhardt, who only came on board a year ago to help clean up the auto giant’s image in the wake of the scandal.
In a statement, Volkswagen said Hohmann-Dennhardt was leaving “due to differences in their understanding of responsibilities and future operating structures within the function she leads”.
Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung called her departure “a major setback” for Volkswagen as it seeks to win back customers’ trust and turn the page on the crisis.
Citing company sources, the newspaper said Hohmann-Dennhardt had run into opposition over her efforts to shed light on how the emissions scam unfolded, clashing with top brass eager to draw a line under the saga.
She will be replaced by VW’s head of auditing, Hiltrud Werner.