(AFP) – Jan 9, 2008
BRUNSWICK, Germany (AFP) — Former VW boss Ferdinand Piech, now head of the car giant's supervisory board, insisted on Wednesday he was unaware of a corruption network that had operated within the group for years.
"I never had any knowledge" of a system that provided key members of the VW workers council with cash and favours in return for peaceful labour relations, Piech told a civil court in this northern German city.
He was giving testimony in the trial of two former Volkswagen personnel directors, Klaus Volkert and Klaus-Joachim Gebauer, charged with inciting breach of trust and breach of trust, respectively.
It was the first time that the "patriarch," as Piech is known in Germany, had appeared as a witness since revelations emerged that VW had given bonuses to key labour leaders and paid for some of them to take exotic trips and receive the services of prostitutes.
Piech has steadfastly denied any knowledge of payments that totaled some 2.6 million euros (3.8 million dollars) to Volkert, a former trade union leader, and other labour figures.
"At no time during my mandate did I have knowledge of any such abuses," said Piech, who was head of the biggest European car maker from 1993 to 2002.
In late 2007, German judicial officials decided to open a new enquiry after fresh elements emerged in the trial, in particular information provided by an unidentified former employee who said Piech had been told of the practices in the mid 1990s and had ordered an internal investigation.
Press reports have also mentioned the existence of a letter signed by Piech that approved a generous pension for Volkert, the authenticity of which was rejected by Volkswagen.
Meanwhile, several top VW managers have come to Piech's defence.
Former human resources director Peter Hartz, sentenced in 2007 to a two-year suspended prison term and ordered to pay a hefty fine in connection with the affair, has said several times he was solely responsible for authorizing the payments.
Hartz told the court that he told Piech only in "an informal manner" in 1994 of Volkert's demands to be paid better but stressed that "details were not mentioned."
A verdict in the trial is expected in March.
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