An open secret. That was how Volkswagen's internal investigation described the carmaker's development of software that could cheat diesel emissions tests, according to a report from Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.
According to the daily, a number of managers and employees dealing with emissions issues in the engine department have knowledge or involvement in the development of the so-called the "defeat devices." Sueddeutsche Zeitung, along with regional broadcasters NDR and WDR, conducted a research into the matter.
The paper reported that there was a culture of collective secrecy prevailing within the engine department, where the matter was openly discussed as early as 2006. However, a number of individuals took exception. For instance, a whistleblower who was involved in the fraud alerted a senior manager outside the engine department in 2011, but the latter did not make any action.
This whistleblower has been providing evidence to investigators. According to the report, it seemed that the engine department was desperate in trying to comply with emission guidelines in the United States and thereby come up with a quick yet inexpensive solution for a clean diesel engine.
Investigators were told during the probe that instead of revealing to the board that it cannot be done, the people involved opted to commit a fraud, as nobody was courageous enough to admit the failure. The emissions fraud scandal is so far VW's biggest corporate crisis, likely costing the carmaker billions of dollars for recalls, technical fixes and lawsuits.
VW has stated that as far as it is concerned, only a small circle of people had knowledge of the manipulation. The carmaker also has said that it has no knowledge of any involvement by top management or supervisory board members in the matter.
A spokesman for the carmaker said the investigation being conducted by US law firm Jones Day is still ongoing. According to Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the whistleblower underwent an investigation by prosecutors in Braunschweig.
As part of its commitment to shed more light on the scandal, VW launched an amnesty program in 2015 for employee-witnesses to come forward with information by Nov. 30. Under the program, VW would not fire those employees. VW intends to first disclose the results of the probe at the upcoming annual shareholders' meeting in April.