Audi CEO targeted in German prosecutor's emissions probe

Audi CEO Rupert Stadler’s apartment was searched.

FRANKFURT — German prosecutors on Monday said they have widened an emissions cheating probe against Volkswagen Group’s luxury car brand Audi to include CEO Rupert Stadler among the suspects accused of fraud and false advertising.

The Munich public prosecutor’s office said it is now probing 20 suspects, and that it had on Monday searched the apartment of Stadler and one other current board member. It did not disclose the identity of the second board member.

“Since May 30, 2018 the chairman of the board of Audi AG Prof. Rupert Stadler as well as a further member of the management board are now named suspects,” the Munich prosecutor’s office said. Both are being investigated for fraud and falsifying public documents over sales of rigged cars in Europe.

The probe could trigger a leadership crisis at Audi and its parent VW Group where Stadler in April was elevated to the post of head of sales for the entire group.

Stadler has been implicated by several engineers and Monday’s announcement comes only a month after Audi was raided for the third time. Two former manager are being held in pre-trial detention in Munich. Among them is Giovanni Pamio, who has testified about the rigging allegation at Audi.

Audi said it is fully cooperating with the prosecutors.

Stadler was not immediately available for comment.

Audi, the biggest contributor to VW Group’s profit, admitted in November 2015 that its 3.0-liter V6 diesel engines were fitted with a device deemed illegal in the United States that allowed cars to evade emissions limits.

Audi said last month that it had discovered emissions-related problems with a further 60,000 cars, dealing a fresh setback to Volkswagen more than 2-1/2 years after it first admitted to cheating U.S. diesel exhaust tests.

Stadler ran finance at Audi for four years before becoming CEO in 2007. He was a confidant of, and former assistant to, then-VW chairman Ferdinand Piech, the scion of Volkswagen’s controlling clan who was himself ousted in 2015.

In March Audi’s 20-strong supervisory board recommended that shareholders endorse Stadler as chief executive even as prosecutors raided Audi to investigate who was involved in the use of any illicit software deployed in the affected 80,000 VW, Audi and Porsche cars in the United States.

Bloomberg contributed to this report.

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