The indictment alleges that Winterkorn had been informed of VW's diesel emissions cheating in May 2014 and again in July 2015.
In a statement, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that "these are serious allegations" and that "the full force of the law" applies to this case. Volkswagen settled criminal charges with the United States justice department in 2017 and agreed to a $4.3 billion payment. Two former VW engineers, Oliver Schmidt and James Liang, pleaded guilty to participating in the conspiracy alleged in the indictment and are now serving prison sentences of 84 months and 40 months, respectively.
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Winterkorn faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy charge and up to 20 years in prison and a $25,000 fine on the wire fraud charges.
According to the indictment, Winterkorn was told of the problem and questioned how USA regulators were threatening to delay certifying 2016 cars for sale, at a July meeting in Wolfsburg, Germany, where the company is based, according to Bloomberg News. Similar to Winterkorn, each of them is believed to be a German citizen and to reside in Germany. They also spelled out the potential consequences of being caught. Eight other individuals have now been charged by United States authorities in the scandal.
When the scandal broke in 2015, then-CEO Winterkorn denied having knowledge of the efforts by VW engineers to use a device and software to pass emissions inspections.
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In March a year ago, VW paid a $2.8 billion fine after pleading guilty to deceiving USA regulators with the defeat devices.
According to Reuters, the United States indictment of Martin Winterkorn is largely a symbolic one.
Prosecutors say Winterkorn knew of the company's emissions cheating as early as May 2014 but chose to continue with the fraud, the Justice Department said in a statement.
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The engines of 11 million Audi, VW, and Porsche diesel models were found to have been embedded with computer software, known as a "defeat device", that could sense test scenarios by monitoring speed, engine operation, air pressure and even the position of the steering wheel. That doesn't mean he will be safe from prosecution in Germany, though.