Medically, the situation with Martin Winterkorn is quite clear. The former Volkswagen boss urgently needs hip surgery, otherwise there is a risk of irreparable damage. Under no circumstances will he be able to appear in Brunswick Regional Court on September 16, when his trial for alleged fraud in the broadcasts case is set to begin. The legal consequences of this cannot yet be fully foreseen, but in any case serious. Winterkorn would likely not go to court until 2024 at the earliest, if at all; almost ten years after the revelation of one of the biggest industrial scandals in Germany. VW had manipulated emission controls on millions of diesel vehicles.
According to information from the Süddeutscher Zeitung and the NDR, the Braunschweig Regional Court is considering withdrawing Winterkorn from the upcoming trial against a total of five defendants from the ranks of VW. The Winterkorn proceedings would be separate, as it is called in the language of the judiciary. The court informed all concerned of this intention on Tuesday evening. And added that another trial against the former VW boss would not start until the other trial against the other four defendants is completed.
Given that the first pending proceedings are expected to last two years, i.e. an end would not be in sight until the fall of 2023, that would mean: there would be nothing until 2024 with a Winterkorn trial in Braunschweig. The regional court is responsible for the alleged infringements at Volkswagen in the nearby town of Wolfsburg. The lawyers for the five defendants and the Braunschweig prosecutor now have until September 3 to comment on the court’s plans.
It is already foreseeable that opinions will be very divergent on this subject. The first informal reactions from those concerned and those familiar with the procedure range from “understandable” to “unacceptable” or even “scandalous”. What is clear, however, is that a first trial of the VW emissions scandal without the ex-CEO in the dock would have the flaw that senior management’s responsibility in the industrial scandal would remain criminally unresolved for. long time. And this despite the immense scale of the affair which cost VW more than 30 billion euros.
During Winterkorn’s tenure as CEO, Volkswagen sold diesel vehicles to millions of customers as clean and environmentally friendly cars, even though they were polluting. Hence the charge of fraud. With Winterkorn himself, however, it’s not about millions of vehicles, but only about 65,000 vehicles, as he only found out about the manipulation later, but didn’t turn it off. The ex-CEO denies all the allegations.
In principle, it all depends on when Winterkorn can negotiate again after his hip surgery. But that’s exactly what shouldn’t be predictable. The Brunswick Regional Court has several reports on the state of health of the former CEO. Including a current assessment from the Ludwig Maximilians University (LMU) Munich obtained by the court itself.
The LMU confirms the information provided by the doctors of Winterkorn. His hips are or have been severely damaged. The former VW boss has already had a hip repaired, which required two surgeries. Winterkorn has since recovered. Now the second hip is due, which cannot be delayed and makes it impossible to quickly start the process against him. This puts the judiciary in a bind.
The Braunschweig District Court has already postponed the process twice already due to the corona pandemic and now apparently wants to avoid a further postponement and therefore start the process without winter grains. On the other hand, if Winterkorn’s trial were postponed for several years, the former VW boss might no longer appear in court: Winterkorn is already 74 years old and not in very good health. However, his defense attorney, Felix Dörr, is not seen as someone who cheats on the court to protect his clients from the trial.
It remains to be seen how the Brunswick Regional Court ultimately decides. The Braunschweig prosecutor’s office is unlikely to welcome the intention to separate the Winterkorn case from all persons. If the investigating authority raises an objection, the court must expect considerable problems. The public prosecutor’s office, which did not respond to the request, was able to lodge a complaint with the Higher Regional Court of Braunschweig against the separation of the proceedings in Winterkorn. So legally everything is still open, medically everything is clear.