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German automaker VW to stand in new type of "dieselgate" trial

BERLIN Germany (Xinhua) -- German carmaker Volkswagen will stand trial in a new type of "dieselgate" class action lawsuit which opens at the Braunschweig Higher Regional Court on Monday.

The case centers on allegations by Volkswagen shareholders that the Wolfsburg-based carmaker failed to inform them of its involvement in emissions-cheating practices in adequate and timely fashion.

The so-called "template lawsuit", in which several plaintiffs unite to press charges collectively and resolve key questions to set a legal precedent, was only recently enabled by new legislation passed by the German government in response to the "dieselgate" scandal.

Speaking before the opening of the trial, plaintiffs and defendant both expressed confidence that their respective legal arguments would withstand the scrutiny of judicial authorities.

"We are not afraid of any of (Volkswagen’s) arguments," said Andreas Tilp, the attorney of the Deka Investment group leading the "template lawsuit".

However, Tilp predicted that "no matter who wins", appeals of the verdict by the Braunschweig judge were likely to ultimately witness the trial being carried out before the Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgerichtshof).

Markus Pfueller, the attorney representing Volkswagen, insisted that his client had faithfully assumed all of its obligations as a publicly-listed company to inform shareholders about the developing "dieselgate" scandal.

"We are convinced that this is the case," Pfueller said.

A key question of interest to the Braunschweig judges and wider public in the trial is from which point onwards Volkswagen managers became aware of illicit emissions-cheating practices and would have hence been legally obliged to issue a warning to shareholders.


Volkswagen emissions scandal - also called 'emissionsgate' or 'dieselgate' | Coastweek

Volkswagen has argued that there was no substantive evidence to justify such as step prior to the publication of accusations by U.S. environmental regulators in September 2015, whereas the plaintiffs claim that senior staff at the company knew in detail about the illegal practices as early as June 2008.

The Braunschweig State Prosecution Office currently lists 49 suspects in its investigations into emissions-cheating at German carmakers.

A small number of senior Volkswagen executives, including former Chief Executive Officer Winterkorn, his successor and current CEO Herbert Diess and board chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch are believed to have potentially committed "market manipulation" offenses under German laws governing the conduct of publicly-listed companies.

Speaking at Volkswagen’s latest Annual General Meeting (AGM), Diess argued that long-term commercial success could only be secured with a corporate culture centered on "decency".

As a consequence, the Dax-listed firm needed to become "more honest" and "more transparent" in the way it conducted business.


Audi CEO to remain in German police custody

BERLIN Germany (Xinhua) -- The Munich District Court rejected on Monday a request by Audi CEO Rupert Stadler to be released from police custody after being imprisoned eight weeks ago in the course of ongoing "dieselgate" investigations in Germany.

A spokesperson for the court told press that Stadler remained under urgent suspicion of having known of diesel emissions-cheating practices at Audi without halting the sale of affected vehicles.

Additionally, the arrest warrant delivered to the CEO was not overturned because of a danger of collusion still posed by the 55-year-old suspect.

Stadler had filed a legal complaint in the hope of being set free as he is awaiting the formal opening of a court trial to probe Audi’s involvement in the "dieselgate" scandal.

Stadler and another unnamed senior manager at the Volkswagen Group subsidiary Audi are suspected of offenses of criminal fraud and "indirect false certification" in the marketing of diesel vehicles which were fitted with defeat devices to understate their actual Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions.

German investigators believe that the Ingolstadt-based luxury carmaker has sold at least 210,000 diesel vehicles with illegal emissions-cheating software in the United States and Europe since 2009.

The suspended CEO has already provided a first testimony to prosecutors while imprisoned at the Augsburg-Gablingen penitentiary facility near Munich.

It remains unclear, however, whether or not he denied the accusations against him.

Stadler has been temporarily replaced in his role on the Audi management board by Bram Schot.

Volkswagen has hesitated to fire Stadler prior to a conclusion of judicial proceedings against him and has only suspended the jailed CEO whose regular contract is scheduled to expire in 2022.

The arrest marked the first time that a member of the management board of a German carmaker was taken into police custody in the "dieselgate" scandal.

German city of Frankfurt to enact diesel driving ban in 2019

BERLIN Germany (Xinhua) -- The city of Frankfurt must ban certain types of highly-polluting diesel vehicles from its streets in order to improve local air quality, the Wiesbaden administrative court ruled on Wednesday evening (CET).

The judges hereby sided with the German Environmental Relief group (DUH) in a closely-watched lawsuit which the non-governmental organization (NGO) had filed against the Hesse state government.

In its verdict, the Wiesbaden administrative court agreed with the DUH that existing clean air regulations in Germany’s fifth largest city were insufficient to protect citizens from health risks posed by nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions.

As a consequence, state authorities were ordered to pass legislation to prohibit diesel vehicles with "Euro4" and older motor classifications, as well as "Euro1" and "Euro2" petroleum vehicles from entering the Hesse regional capital as of February 2019.

The ban will also apply to more recent "Euro5" diesel vehicles from September 2019 onwards.

Presiding judge Rolf Hartman argued that the driving ban had become necessary because all other measures considered by the state government would fail to produce an "effective reduction of NOx emissions" within an acceptable timeframe.

"We must realize that this (case) is about the dangers to the health of us all", Hartmann said.

The Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) estimates that diesel vehicles are responsible for more than 50 percent of harmful NOx emissions in Germany, the actual pollution levels of which were previously often obscured by carmakers’ installation of illicit defeat devices in the ongoing "dieselgate" scandal.

In light of the repeated failure of several German cities to comply with binding European Union (EU) limits on urban NOx levels, the Federal Administrative Court ruled in February that municipal governments could impose their own driving bans to address the situation.

Even prior to the conclusion of trial on Wednesday, the Wiesbaden court had signalled that it would not shy away from forcing Frankfurt to make use of the right which was granted to German cities in the earlier landmark ruling.

Hartmann urged the Hesse government to elaborate a new air pollution control plan with concrete emissions limits and deadlines to ensure that NOx levels began to fall again in the city as soon as 2020.

However, the city of Frankfurt expressed disappointment at the looming prospect of court-ordered driving bans.

"The citizens and cities are now being made to pay for the failures of the automotive industry and the federal government", municipal traffic minister Klaus Oesterling (SPD) complained.

Oesterling demanded financial assistance from the state- and federal government in implementing the verdict, not least with view to the required modernization of a fleet of roughly 340 busses used for public transportation.

By contrast, the DUH welcomed the development as "clearing the path to clean air."

The group has filed similar lawsuits to achieve bans in most of the 67 German cities where NOx emissions continue to exceed EU limits.

Growing pressure to act on polluting diesel vehicles is now also being exerted on German authorities from abroad.

The Brussels-based EU Commission is in the process of suing the federal government in Berlin before the European Court of Justice for long-standing national non-compliance with the bloc’s clean air legislation.

Earlier, Hamburg became the first city in Germany to impose an at least partial driving ban on older diesel vehicles on two centrally-located district of Altona.

According to the UBA, driving bans in German cities could only realistically be averted if older diesel vehicles undergo comprehensive technical retro-fitting efforts resisted as too costly and complicated by carmakers and federal transport minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU).


Dieselgate: Compliance auditor now demands
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