Former Volkswagen chairman Martin Winterkorn and four other former senior Volkswagen managers have been ordered to stand trial on charges of serious fraud in Germany for their role in the Dieselgate emissions manipulation scandal.

Winterkorn, chairman of Volkswagen between 2007 and 2015, and four former managers were charged in 2019 with equipping various Volkswagen diesel models with a ‘defeat device’ that reduced emissions during official testing, leading to vastly lower CO2 ratings than those achieved in real-world driving conditions.

A court in Braunschweig, Germany, passed a motion on Wednesday that allows the case against Winterkorn and the four others to proceed. As well as carrying charges of serious fraud, the case has been modified to allow prosecutors to push for additional criminal gang charges.

Additional charges against Winterkorn, including breach of trust, have been denied by the court.

Prosecutors contend the former Volkswagen chairman had knowledge of diesel emissions cheating as early as May 2014 – more than a year before the car maker publicly admitted to using a software program in various diesel models to allow them to emit fewer emissions under test conditions than on the road.

They also say Winterkorn was a driving force behind the introduction in November 2014 of a software update to Volkswagen diesel models whose sole purpose, it is claimed, was to cover up the emissions defeat device. The scandal has cost the German manufacturer more than €30 billion (£27.2bn) to date.

In a statement, the Braunschweig court said the fraud charges concern nine million cars in which buyers could have lost hundreds of million of euros.

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A lawyer for Winterkorn addressed the court on Wednesday, saying his client denied the charges.

In an early disposition, prosecutors said Winterkorn and the four other accused could face from six months to 10 years’ imprisonment if they’re found guilty. Depending on the severity, they could also be forced to forfeit any bonuses they have earned on diesel vehicle sales based on the emissions manipulation.

In a statement, Volkswagen emphasised that, under German law, Winterkorn and the four former Volkswagen managers should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

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