Ever since Martin Winterkorn resigned from his post as Volkswagen Group CEO due to diesel emission scandal sixteen months ago, he has been out of the spotlight. However, Winterkorn made his first public appearance today at a parliamentary committee in Berlin investigating the emission irregularities of automobiles. At the hearing, Winterkorn maintained his innocence, saying he had no part in the cheating, nor knew anything about it.
“It’s incomprehensible why I wasn’t informed early and clearly. I would have prevented any type of deception or misleading of authorities,” said Winterkorn.
Winterkorn declined to answer questions dealing with when he was informed about the scandal, saying prosecutors are still investigating.
The defense that Winterkorn is using (not having any knowledge about the scandal until the news broke) is very much at odds with his reputation of being a detail-obsessed executive.
“It remains difficult to believe that such a dedicated engineer like Winterkorn wasn’t aware what was going on. And if he wasn’t, he neglected his duties as supervisor,” said Stefan Bratzel, an auto industry researcher at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany to Bloomberg.
There is also a fair amount of circumstantial evidence that shows Winterkorn knew about this. A year before the scandal broke, Winterkorn was alleged to get a memo talking about the investigation into the EA128 2.0L TDI engine. He claims that he never saw that memo. There is also the allegation that Winterkorn sat in a meeting discussing the investigation.
Before leaving the hearing, Winterkorn apologized once again.
“What happened makes people furious -- me too. I’m deeply upset that we disappointed millions of our customers,” said Winterkorn.