Former VW boss Martin Winterkorn 'charged' in United States over dieselgate

Martin Winterkorn former CEO of German automaker Volkswagen AG arrives to testify at the Bundestag commission investigating the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal

Former Volkswagen chief executive Martin Winterkorn has been accused of conspiring to mislead United States regulators about the carmaker's emissions in a scandal that has been called "dieselgate".

According to documents which surfaced on Thursday, the charges against Winterkorn were filed in March but were only unsealed this week.

The first count also says the company defrauded US customers and violated the Clean Air Act by "making false representations to regulators and the public about the ability of VW's supposedly "clean diesel" vehicles to comply with USA emissions requirements".

The remaining three counts charge Winterkorn with wire fraud in connection with the scheme.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Environmental Protection Adminstration chief Scott Pruitt and other senior Trump administration official issued statements criticising VW with the indictment, which marks a rare instance of a CEO being subjected to criminal prosecution for corporate behavior.

The company pleaded guilty in March 2017 to criminal charges of deceiving US and California regulatory agencies by installing the software to cheat emissions tests. Less than one month later, on September 3rd 2015, Volkswagen admitted to using defeat devices.

He becomes the highest-ranking executive to be charged over "dieselgate" - a scheme where VW used software to trick government emissions testers.

Winterkorn, who resigned amid the scandal in September 2015 after eight years at the helm at the German automaker, is believed to be in Germany, federal authorities said.

The indictment alleges that Winterkorn had been informed of VW's diesel emissions cheating in May 2014 and again in July 2015.

The company itself pleaded guilty to three criminal charges in January previous year, and paid fines totalling $US4.3 billion. Two former engineers have pleaded guilty.

The indictment of Winterkorn is the most recent charge in an ongoing investigation by US criminal authorities into unprecedented emissions cheating by VW.

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