SEC Sues Volkswagen, Alleging It Misled Investors

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is suing Volkswagen and its former chief executive, alleging they defrauded investors during the German auto giant's notorious diesel emissions scandal.

Source: Washington Post | Published on March 19, 2019

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From April 2014 to May 2015, Volkswagen raised more than $13 billion from U.S. investors in the bonds and securities markets as senior executives lied and used software to cheat emissions tests, according to the SEC complaint.

"Volkswagen made false and misleading statements to investors and underwriters about vehicle quality, environmental compliance, and VW's financial standing," the regulator said in the summary of its complaint. "By concealing the emissions scheme, Volkswagen reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in benefit by issuing the securities at more attractive rates for the company."

The Wolfsburg, Germany-based automaker dismissed the SEC allegations as "legally and factually flawed" in a statement to The Post on Friday. Volkswagen contends the agency is "piling on" years after the company admitted guilt and paid billions in fines and settlements.

The SEC "has brought an unprecedented complaint over securities sold only to sophisticated investors who were not harmed and received all payments of interest and principal in full and on time," Volkswagen said in the statement.

The complaint alleges that top Volkswagen executives, including chief executive Martin Winterkorn, were made aware of the cheat devices - which had been installed in 11 million vehicles - during a November 2007 meeting with company engineers. The cars would test as low emission when in fact their output was 40 times the U.S. legal limit. The scandal was exposed by the Environmental Protective Agency.

In June 2016, Volkswagen paid $14.7 billion to settle shareholder claims from the scandal, in one of the biggest class-action settlements in U.S. history. In January 2017, Volkswagen paid $4.3 billion in criminal and civil fines after the company pleaded guilty in a case brought by the U.S. Department of Justice. It was the first time the company had pleaded guilty to criminal conduct in court.

The SEC seeks to bar Winterkorn from leading a publicly listed U.S. company and recover Volkswagen's "ill-gotten gains" as a result of the scandal. Winterkorn faced federal charges in an indictment unsealed in May for his alleged role in the coverup.

The complaint alleges that Winterkorn encouraged the use of the cheat devices as part of his plan to turn Volkswagen into "the biggest, most profitable, and most environmentally-friendly car company in the world."

Volkswagen, as well as Winterkorn's lawyer, did not respond to requests for comment Friday.