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Reports: VW chairman, CEO knew of illicit software early

Martin Winterkorn briefed VW’s board that the carmaker had admitted the use of defeat devices.

Car maker Volkswagen’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, central Germany. Picture: AFP.

BERLIN - The current chairman and the chief executive of Volkswagen AG were alerted by the former CEO to the use of illicit emissions-control software in the United States two weeks before the carmaker disclosed the scale of its manipulations, Bild am Sonntag reported, without citing the source of the information.

Martin Winterkorn, who resigned within a week of Volkswagen's biggest-ever corporate scandal becoming public on 18 September, briefed VW's executive board on 8 September that the carmaker had admitted the use of "defeat devices" to US authorities, the newspaper reported on Sunday.

Participants in the 8 September meeting included then-finance chief Hans Dieter Poetsch and then-CEO of Porsche, Matthias Mueller, according to Bild am Sonntag. They have since become VW's chairman and chief executive, respectively.

Former CFO Poetsch has been criticised by some investors and analysts for failing to inform VW's shareholders of the looming problem, with some of them demanding that VW select an independent chairman if it wants to overcome the crisis.

Volkswagen "fully complied with the requirements set out in the securities law," a spokesman said in an email. "Volkswagen categorically declines comment on the contents of management board meetings."

VW's own acknowledgement of the manipulations on 20 September subsequently erased billions of euros from the company's market value, forced Winterkorn's resignation and sparked investigations and lawsuits across the world.

The carmaker defended its actions on 2 March, saying it had not failed in its duties because it had no idea until the US Environmental Protection Agency released its statement on 18 September how expensive the affair could become.

The actions by VW's management were driven by an "interest in secrecy" as the carmaker was hoping to find a "solution" with US authorities without incurring major fines, Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported in an advance release of Monday's edition, citing a VW position paper drawn up to fend off damage claims from shareholders.

A VW spokesman declined comment on Sunday, referring to the 2 March statement.

Tuebingen, Germany-based law firm TILP, representing some shareholders' lawsuits against VW, on Sunday dismissed VW's interpretation of disclosure rules as "misleading and wrong" and accused the carmaker of trying to blame its stock plunge on the EPA's 18 September notice of violation.

Europe's largest automaker has pledged to publish results of an investigation into the scandal in the second half of April. The inquiry is led by US law firm Jones Day.

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