In a significant development surrounding the notorious diesel emissions scandal, the former chief of Audi, Volkswagen’s esteemed luxury division, entered a guilty plea on Tuesday.
Rupert Stadler, the highest-ranking executive implicated in the scandal thus far, accepted responsibility for his actions, acknowledging his failure to prevent the distribution of manipulated vehicles that surreptitiously evaded emissions tests through illicit software assistance.
As his attorney read a statement in court, Stadler uttered a resounding “yes,” expressing remorse for his wrongdoing and lamenting his inability to prevent the proliferation of deceitful automobiles, even after the scandal had garnered public attention, according to the reputable dpa news agency.
This admission of guilt came as part of a plea agreement forged between Stadler, the presiding judge, and the prosecution. The agreement stipulates that Stadler will serve probation instead of imprisonment, while also requiring him to pay a substantial fine of 1.1 million euros ($1.2 million), symbolizing his unwavering acknowledgment of his culpability.
Throughout the protracted 2 1/2-year trial held in Munich, three subordinate managers have already accepted similar plea bargains.
Prosecutors had charged Stadler with fraud and false certification, alleging that he allowed the sale of vehicles equipped with manipulated software even after September 2015. It was during that time when the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exposed the scandal by issuing a notice of violation under the Clean Air Act.
The surreptitious software activated emission controls solely during laboratory tests while conveniently deactivating them during normal driving conditions. Consequently, the vehicles passed regulatory inspections while releasing nitrogen oxide, a hazardous pollutant, at levels significantly exceeding permissible limits, thereby endangering public health.
The scandal inflicted a colossal financial toll on Volkswagen, amounting to over $30 billion in fines and settlements. Additionally, two high-ranking U.S. executives from the company were incarcerated as a direct consequence of their involvement.
Moreover, the scandal catalyzed a seismic shift within the automotive industry, compelling a departure from diesel engines, which had previously dominated nearly half of the European auto market. This shift expedited the transition towards electric vehicles, with Volkswagen now establishing itself as one of the world’s foremost producers of battery-powered cars.
Martin Winterkorn, the former CEO of Volkswagen, who resigned in the aftermath of the EPA’s announcement in 2015, faces charges from both U.S. and German authorities. However, due to his delicate health condition, he cannot be extradited to the United States. Consequently, the German legal proceedings against Winterkorn have come to a standstill.