Lies, Damned Lies, And Volkswagen’s Dieselgate – Forbes – Forbes
“Who’s the liar – Piëch, or the board?” This is the headline of today’s BILD Zeitung – Europe’s largest daily – and it says what Germany wonders. Last week, a bomb set by Volkswagen’s patriarch Ferdinand Piëch exploded. Claiming that he inquired about the emission cheating half a year before the scandal broke, Volkswagen’s biggest shareholder Piëch dragged labor unions, German politicians, and his own cousin Wolfgang Porsche into the dieselgate maelstrom. “Not true!” everybody screamed. While Volkswagen leaks more than a sink at the Watergate, Europe is developing pattern baldness from excessive head-scratching, even Germany’s toughest reporters have a hard time separating fact from spy-thriller fiction.
Last week, we did read of Piëch telling German prosecutors that he discussed Volkswagen’s dieselgate problem with Winterkorn as early as March 2015. Per the reports, Piëch testified that he heard from an informant that VW was having a big problem in America, and that US regulators already notified Volkswagen.
Then there were those reports that Piëch claimed he informed the steering committee of Volkswagen’s Supervisory Board immediately after Winterkorn professed his ignorance. The top-flight committee consisted of Stephan Weil, Prime Minister of Volkswagen’s 20% shareholder Lower Saxony, along with Volkswagen’s Works Council chief Bernd Osterloh, former Metal Worker Union boss Berthold Huber, and Piëch’s cousin Wolfgang Porsche.
The matter reached Tom Clancyite proportions when Spiegel wrote that it was Israel’s internal intelligence arm Shin Bet who tipped off Piëch about the looming dieselgate scandal. Members of Germany’s spy service BND quickly suspected that the information originated in America’s intelligence community. One of the involved, Lower Saxony’s Prime Minister Weil called the matter “fake news,” Volkswagen issued a vehement denial, and threatened to sue its largest stockholder and longtime demi-god Piëch to kingdom come.
Did Piëch overplay his hand? People familiar with cunning Piëch doubt that he waded into the scandal without a few jokers up his sleeves. He did not become one of Europe’s richest men by stupidly incriminating himself, and there seems to be at least some truth to his story.
The BILD Zeitung tabloid is dieselgate’s paper of record, and later in the week, BILD’s crack investigative reporter Michael Manske had the exclusive story that Winterkorn confirmed the dieselgate discussion with Piëch. Vis-a-vis investigators of Volkswagen’s law firm Jones Day, Winterkorn admitted to having been asked by Piëch about trouble in America, Manske wrote. Winterkorn recalled a discussion with Piëch about emission problems in the U.S., “which were solved in a recall,” wrote BILD. However, says the report, “words like fraud, illegal, or criminal were never mentioned.”