Business / Auto Global

VW faces record German investor lawsuits after emissions scandal

(China Daily) Updated: 2016-09-26 10:15

VW faces record German investor lawsuits after emissions scandal

People walk past Volkswagen's stand at the Detroit Auto Show in January. [Photo/China Daily]

Volkswagen AG faces Germany's biggest investor lawsuit, as attorneys filed complaints totaling 8.2 billion euros ($9.2 billion) related to the diesel emissions scandal that wiped out a third of the company's market value.

About 1,400 lawsuits are currently pending at a court in Braunschweig, about 20 miles from Volkswagen's Wolfsburg headquarters, a judicial spokeswoman said on Wednesday. Investors say they lost money on VW shares because the company was slow in disclosing the emissions-cheating issue.

Investors have lined up to sue in Germany, where VW shares plunged in the first two trading days after the Sept 18 disclosure of the emissions scandal by US regulators. Monday was the first business day after the anniversary of the scandal and investors had feared they needed to sue within a year of the company's admission that it had equipped about 11 million diesel vehicles with software to cheat on pollution tests.

The amount is less than the 10.7 billion euros that had been expected based on lawyers' statements last week, but more suits could still trickle in because of uncertainty about when the deadline expires. The court may need about four weeks to register all the complaints, it said.

The US government, which is investigating the company for possible criminal charges and hasn't approved a fix for the affected vehicles, is also among the investors suing and its case was valued at 30 million euros.

Volkswagen, in a statement, reiterated its view that it complied with capital-market rules and that the claims are unfounded.

Volkswagen shares remain down 11 percent this year.

"The number isn't surprising. We've already seen some of the cases," said Arndt Ellinghorst, an analyst at Evercore ISI, with a "buy" rating on the stock. "It will be difficult for the plaintiffs to prove that VW acted intentionally here."

Volkswagen has set aside about 18 billion euros to cover the costs of the scandal, but the lawsuits are unlikely to add to the tally in the near future. Porsche Automobil Holding SE has, since 2011, been fighting damage claims related to its aborted effort to fully acquire Volkswagen, and there's no end in sight to those legal battles.

The Braunschweig cases will probably take years, but, over the next several months, Volkswagen will get a chance to respond to the complaints. The judges will decide whether to delay the litigation pending the result of a "model case," under a procedure that centralizes the evidence phase in large-scale shareholder litigation. The modelcase proceedings are currently pending at the Braunschweig Appeals Court. That tribunal will have to choose one of the plaintiff lawyers to become lead counsel, which could happen by the end of the year. The Braunschweig Appeals Court will then work on a list of issues to be resolved as the plaintiffs are seeking answers to hundreds of questions of law and fact. New cases could be filed as lawyers argue that, for most plaintiffs, the deadline to bring the suits expires at the end of 2018.

While the investor lawsuits pile up in Braunschweig, consumers affected by the scandal are focusing their efforts on Brussels. Currently, the company is only offering repairs to European customers, whereas Americans received packages worth thousands of dollars.

EU meeting

European Union Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova met with Francisco Javier Garcia Sanz, a member of VW's board, on Wednesday, and said the company pledged to carry out an EU-wide action plan to address the most urgent issues of informing EU consumers and repairing the affected cars.

In July, Jourova said she would work with consumer groups and regulators to pressure the company to give payouts.

The imposition of fines and extra compensation aren't part of the European Commission's role, but rather the responsibility of national courts and enforcement authorities, an EU official said after the meeting in Brussels.

A law firm separately sued Porsche Holding and VW in a court in Stuttgart on behalf of 263 investors seeking a combined 547 million euros over the diesel-disclosure issue. Porsche Holding, which is controled by the Porsche-Piech family, owns a majority of Volkswagen's voting stock and is effectively its parent company.

In an interim ruling in some of the cases filed earlier in Porsche's hometown, the court has said it will review whether to set aside secrecy rules that the two companies were invoking as part of their defense, Andreas Tilp, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in an emailed statement.

Porsche Holding's spokesman Albrecht Bamler said the court's interim ruling didn't contradict any of the company's arguments. Porsche, which has said the claims are unfounded, will submit its arguments to the tribunal in the respective proceedings, he said.


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