The $10 billion trial against Volkswagen, its first court case in the scandal over falsifying diesel emissions data, began Monday with mixed messages from judges.
Proceedings before a three-judge court in Braunschweig began with the court suggesting that some claims may be too old to be reviewed. The judges also said they must review whether Volkswagen should have disclosed the scandal years earlier than it did.
At issue is whether the company should have admitted sooner that it rigged emissions data on its diesel engines.
Investors are suing Volkswagen, saying the company is to blame for a sudden decline in its stock prices after it disclosed in 2015 that its diesel technology actually emitted illegal levels of pollutants as it rigged the emissions results.
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The plaintiffs may not have a case, presiding Judge Christian Jaede said after opening the hearing Monday. He noted there may be statute of limitations issues, and that they may not be able to prove the required recklessness of the non-disclosure.
The judges will also review whether VW was obligated to disclose that it was aware of the failings of the diesel engines between July 2012 and May 2014 before any investigations started. The investors say Volkswagen was aware of the issue as early as 2007 and should have disclosed it at that time.
The court may conclude that the company should have told investors and markets in May 2014 about a U.S. probe based on a study by the International Council on Clean Transportation, which showed its cars emitted too much pollution, Jaede said.
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Angry shareholders filed their first cases in October 2015. Institutional investors followed a year later, including BlackRock Inc., the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and Allianz Global Investors. The U.S. government is also a plaintiff in the case.