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Ex-VW CEO faces organized commercial fraud charge

Former Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn and four others must stand trial over serious fraud charges in Germany for their role in a diesel-emissions cheating scandal that has cost the automaker more than 30 billion euros ($35 billion) so far.

The former chief and four other managers were charged last year with equipping vehicles sold to customers with a so-called defeat device that reduced emissions during testing.

A court in Brunswick, Germany, allowed the case to proceed Wednesday, but modified some of the charges, saying the suspects could also be tried for acting as a criminal gang.

“The fraud charges concern 9 million vehicles sold in Europe and the U.S.,” the court said in an emailed statement. “Buyers may have lost 100 million euros.”

Because VW vehicles had higher pollution levels than was declared, they should have been subject to higher road tax, and former VW executives should therefore also face charges of tax evasion and false advertising, the court said.

A lawyer for Winterkorn said his client denied the charges. The accusations against Winterkorn are limited in scope and relate to a specific instance in time, the lawyer said.

VW said that while it was no longer the target of prosecutors after settling charges, it wanted to emphasize that all of the accused were innocent until proven guilty.

VW also said it had taken extensive measures to change processes, systems and controls to improve compliance in the wake of the emissions scandal.

The court dropped some minor charges, including breach of trust, against Winterkorn.

The judges told prosecutors that they are likely to reject their demand to have the executive’s bonus seized as part of the case.

Reuters contributed to this report

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