A Volkswagen board director who represents the state of Lower Saxony, which has a controlling stake in the carmaker, has said some some staff acted criminally in cheating emissions tests.
Olaf Lies, Lower Saxony’s economy minister, also said the board only found out about the scandal just before it was announced, even though it was known about in the US for more than a year.
“Those people who allowed this to happen, or who made the decision to install this software, they acted criminally. They must take personal responsibility,” Lies told BBC’s Newsnight programme. “It’s about finding out who was responsible, who knew about it and when they found out.
“We only found out about the problems in the last board meeting, shortly before the media did. I want to be quite open. So we need to find out why the board wasn’t informed earlier about the problems when they were known about over a year ago in the United States.”
Lower Saxony owns 20% of Volkswagen, allowing the state to exert influence over the company and to block actions it opposes. Lies and Stephan Weil, Lower Saxony’s prime minister, sit on the company’s 20-strong supervisory board, which monitors and appoints top executives.
The US Environmental Protection Agency revealed on 18 September that Volkswagen had fitted diesel cars with software that cheated emissions tests. The company’s chief executive, Martin Winterkorn, resigned last week over the scandal. German prosecutors have said Winterkorn, who has denied responsibility for the scandal, was under investigation.
Lies said the board had no idea what the total cost of the scandal would be. Fines in the US alone could be about £12bn and law firms are lining up to bring civil cases against the company.
“Huge damage has been done because millions of people have lost their faith in VW,” said Lies. “We are surely going to have a lot of people suing for damages. We have to recall lots of cars and it has to happen really fast.”