U.S. Gives Volkswagen's New Boss 'Safe Passage' Guarantee

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Shortly after the United States formally accused former CEO of Volkswagen Martin Winterkorn of criminal wrongdoing related to the company’s diesel emission scandal, it decided to let the company’s new boss know that he’s safe to visit whenever he likes. The U.S. Justice Department has agreed to give Herbert Diess a safe-passage deal that allows him to travel without fear of being arrested.

Diess was also given the country’s assurance that he’ll be given advance notice if prosecutors eventually decide to charge him over the emissions cheating issue. So far as we know, no such deal exists for his predecessor, Matthias Müller, who replaced Winterkorn in September of 2015.

While the arrangement is supposed to be confidential, Bloomberg reported that two people familiar with the matter have confirmed its existence. “This is certainly a unique situation, and there are likely facts that the general public is not aware of that would allow for such an arrangement,” said formal federal prosecutor Michael Koenig.

Since Diess joined VW shortly before the scandal became public knowledge, there is little reason to assume he was involved in the subterfuge. However, he was in attendance for a July 27, 2015 meeting where U.S. emissions irregularities were explained to senior managers. That gathering is believed to have been the moment when Winterkorn “approved the continued concealment of the cheating software from U.S. regulators.”

Being privy to that meeting may mean Diess has important information. The safe-passage deal may even have hinged upon him sharing some of that information. Witnesses and subjects of investigations are sometimes guaranteed safe travel so they can testify. Still, sources have already said Diess didn’t help with the case against Winterkorn. So authorities are presumably holding out hopes that he’ll want to talk later and/or have already cleared him of any criminal involvement worthy of arrest.

How involved Diess was in the emissions scandal is unclear, though. It’s unlikely he played any role in the decision to implement defeat devices in VW Group cars, but he may have withheld information about a corporate cover-up. In Germany, he’s under investigation for market manipulation, but so are a gaggle of other high-ranking Volkswagen employees. The most we can assume is that he’s a person of interest right now.

[Image: Volkswagen Group]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on May 07, 2018

    He always invited to come and live in California. Federal law does not apply to California and besides California is an open border sanctuary state.

    • Bd2 Bd2 on May 08, 2018

      Could say the same thing about the states which restrict voting rights, among other things that are national law (like abortion rights).

  • Dantes_inferno Dantes_inferno on May 09, 2018

    >U.S. Gives Volkswagen’s New Boss ‘Safe Passage’ Guarantee Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.

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