BERLIN, Sept. 11 (Xinhua) -- The Braunschweig Higher Regional Court has criticized the response of former Volkswagen chief executive officer (CEO) Martin Winterkorn to the "dieselgate" scandal during a closely-watched class action trial on Tuesday.
Christian Jaede, the presiding judge, questioned why Winterkorn had not told Volkswagen shareholders about potential issues surrounding the installation of illicit software to understate nitrogen oxide (NOx) from diesel vehicles after he was informed internally in July 2015.
The trial which opened on Monday centers on allegations by investors that Volkswagen failed to inform about 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 federal government in Berlin in response to the "dieselgate" scandal.
In total, the group of mainly institutional investors who participate in the German "template lawsuit" is now demanding the repayment of 9 billion euros (10.4 billion U.S. dollars) in compensation from the carmaker.
A key question of interest to the Braunschweig judges as well as German public is from which point onwards Volkswagen managers at the DAX-listed firm became aware of illicit emissions-cheating practices and would have hence been legally obliged to issue a warning to shareholders.
Volkswagen has argued that there was no substantive evidence to justify such a step prior to the publication of accusations by U.S. environmental regulators in September 2015, whereas the plaintiffs claim that senior staff had detailed knowledge 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 ex-CEO Winterkorn, his successor Diess and board chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch are hereby believed to have potentially committed "market manipulation" offenses under German laws that govern the conduct of publicly-listed companies.
Speaking on Tuesday, judge Jaede suggested that a technically-versed Winterkorn should have known about the defeat devices from 2008 onwards. In the same year, Volkswagen organized a "diesel strategy" summit in the United States shortly after the German Environmental Aid (DUH) group first flagged ongoing manipulations of test-setting emission readings from the automotive producer's diesel exhaust systems.