German car giant Volkswagen has been accused of giving a senior manager a lucrative contract after he was targeted by prosecutors investigating the firms involvement in the emissions scandal.
The scandal began in September 2015 when the US environment protection agency (EPA) found cars had been fitted with software designed to manipulate the results of emissions tests – making the cars seem more environmentally friendly than they really were.
Now German media has revealed that when the scandal broke, Volkswagen (VW) had initially suspended one of their key managers, identified only as 58-year-old Hanno J., after they spent 90 minutes questioning him about his involvement.
They quickly identified that he was playing a key part in the department that had developed the software responsible for manipulating the emissions results, and had stripped him of his company car, access to the building and his company shares.
But the threatened sacking never happened. Instead, senior managers, according to revelations in German media, had then changed course and given him a secret contract that was “absolutely without precedent in the company”.
Instead of being fired, three months after the scandal broke on 15th December 2015, they are said to have arranged a deal in which he would give evidence over the affair and he was at the same time given a cast-iron employment contract, which meant he could not be fired even if it was proven that he was the one responsible for the emissions scandal.
The contract meant that he would continue to receive his monthly 14,600-EUR (12,827-GBP) salary plus a yearly bonus of 279,000 EUR (245,126 GBP).
The company is also said to have agreed to take every measure possible with prosecutors to make sure that he did not have to experience any criminal consequences for his actions.
It would allegedly also indemnify him against any claims for compensation by any aggrieved parties as VW would also take these on.
German media have raised questions as to why such a contract would be offered if it was not to influence the testimony of a key witness.
Questioned by German media, a VW spokesman, who has not been named, said: “We do not make any comment on confidential internal employment contracts with members of staff working for Volkswagen AG.”
The lawyer for the man, Phillipp Gehrmann, also declined to comment. But German media noted that he does work for the Berlin legal firm that is representing Volkswagen in the emissions scandal.