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Over 10 million Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda, Seat and Mercedes vehicles were sold with manufacturing defects worldwide.
On Tuesday, former Audi Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Rupert Stadler pleaded guilty to fraud charges at his trial in Munich. He accepted his role in committing fraud by negligence in the automaker's diesel emissions scandal.
Stadler admitted that he had the opportunity to intervene but failed to do so. "I see for myself that it would have required more due diligence," a statement by his defense attorney before the Munich Regional Court said.
Stadler is the first member of the Board of Audi's parent company Volkswagen to plead guilty in court to charges of fraud by omission in the diesel scandal that caused an international stir in 2015 and has already cost Germany's largest carmaker more than US$32.7 billion in compensation claims.
With inadmissible "defeat devices," cars complied with the nitrogen oxide limits on the test bench but not on the road. More than 10 million Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda, Seat and Mercedes vehicles were affected worldwide.
Stadler had claimed his innocence for years and initially did not back down from this even in the trial, which has been ongoing for two and a half years. The turning point came at the end of March, when the court made it clear that the manager would have faced prison without a confession.
Due to a plea bargain submitted by the economic criminal chamber of the regional court, the sentence is now expected to be suspended. In addition, Stadler will have to pay 1.1 million euros.
Previously, the former head of engine development at Audi, Wolfgang Hatz, and two of his senior engineers had already confessed to arranging the design of the engine software. The trial could be concluded in June.
However, an end to the assertion of claims for damages is not yet in sight. It was only in March that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) simplified the claims in a case against Mercedes-Benz. The court made the landmark ruling that affected parties are entitled to damages even without proven intent.
Against this backdrop, the German Federal Court of Justice (BGH) is set to deliver judgments on three further damages claims that are considered to be landmark cases nationally.
So far, the court has regarded "intentional immoral damage" as a condition, which could change after the EJC ruling.