VW charges in U.S. breach German constitution, says defendant's lawyer

Mon Jan 16, 2017 12:11pm EST
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By Andreas Cremer

BERLIN (Reuters) - A lawyer for one of the Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE: Quote) executives charged last week by U.S. prosecutors over the company's diesel emissions scandal said the way they handled the legal process would have been unconstitutional under German law.

"We learned of the indictment from a live press conference," Hamburg-based lawyer Annette Voges said on Monday, adding that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had neither contacted former VW brand development chief Heinz-Jakob Neusser before charging him, nor granted her access to the files.

"This conduct contradicts (German) constitutional principles," added Voges, who is representing Neusser, the highest-ranking of the six people charged.

Neusser remains in Germany, where prosecutors have to grant a defendant a chance to give their side of the story before an indictment, unlike in the United States.

Voges would not comment on the charges against Neusser, but said the case relies on evidence given by witnesses who gave information to U.S. authorities in return for legal immunity.

She said she has advised her client not to leave Germany because of the risk of him being detained.

Last week Europe's largest automaker took a major step toward ending its biggest-ever corporate crisis when it agreed to plead guilty in a $4.3 billion deal with the DOJ over cheating on diesel emissions tests.

At the news conference announcing the settlement, the DOJ also said it was indicting six current and former senior VW managers, including Oliver Schmidt who was arrested in Florida and ordered to be held without bail last week pending trial and faces a total of up to 169 years in prison.   Continued...

FILE PHOTO - A U.S. flag flutters in the wind above a Volkswagen dealership in Carlsbad, California, U.S. May 2, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo