By on May 11, 2017

Matthias Müller, Image: Volkswagen AG/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

Volkswagen Group CEO Matthias Müller is under investigation in Germany over the possibility he withheld important information on the company’s emissions scandal to investors, as well as potential market manipulation relating to Porsche. While public prosecutors continued to broaden their search among high-ranking company officials, the inclusion of the CEO is a bit of a surprise.

It was widely believed Müller would be free from scrutiny as he was appointed to replace ex-CEO Martin Winterkorn shortly after the emissions scandal went public in September 2015. Initially, German investigators even stated the CEO was not suspected of any wrongdoing. Then, in March of 2017, prosecutors launched a raid that seized the mobile phones, electronic passwords, appointment books, and email files of numerous Volkswagen and Audi employees — including Müller. 

This is the first time Müller has officially been the subject of any of the multiple government probes. The majority have focused on former executives and mid-level bosses who definitively authorized software to falsify emissions tests. The software went on to be installed in 11 million vehicles. However, Braunschweig and Stuttgart-based investigators have begun focusing their attention further up the corporate ladder. Those probes already include Winterkorn and Hans-Dieter Pötsch, the company’s current chairman and former finance chief.

The Financial Times ties the Stuttgart investigations to a 2016 complaint by Germany’s Financial Supervisory Authority, which suspected several Porsche SE executive of possible market manipulation. It’s unknown if Müller was among them at the time.

Neither Volkswagen or Porsche has made any statement on the matter. However, VW has previously maintained that its executives were unaware of the vastness of the emissions scandal or the potential liabilities involved. It has repeatedly faulted lower-level engineers as acting alone while upper management slowly learned of the true nature of the problem after environmental regulators began asking questions. The company has repeatedly apologized on the matter while pledging to improve corporate transparency and maintain its social responsibilities.

Earlier this year, six former or current VW officials were indicted by the U.S. government for conspiracy to commit fraud and violation of the Clean Air Act. One of them, former U.S. emissions compliance chief Oliver Schmidt, currently sits in a Detroit jail awaiting trial after being nabbed by authorities in Miami last January.

[Image: Volkswagen AG]

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