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Emissions scandal: Investors seek €8.2-billion from VW

2016-09-21 13:34

HUGE PAYOUT:Investors are seeking billions in compensation from the Volkswagen Group. Image: AFP / John Macdougal

Frankfurt - Volkswagen investors have filed 1400 lawsuits seeking €8.2-billion in compensation from automaker over its emissions cheating scandal, a German court said on Wednesday, adding to a long list of legal woes for the embattled firm.

Investors say the automaker failed to disclose details of the case in a timely way, leading them to lose money as the group's share price plunged by 40% in two days after the crisis erupted last September.

The €8.2-billions in claims is mostly made up of "bundled" actions containing lawsuits from multiple plaintiffs, many of them private investors, according to the court in Brunswick, close to VW's Wolfsburg, Lower Saxony headquarters.

Drop in shares

The US government and several German state governments are also among the claimants.

Two of the claims lodged with the Brunswick court, from groups of institutional investors including Blackrock, the world's largest fund manager, account for a total of €2-billion alone.

A spokesman for Volkswagen reiterated the automaker's position that it "continues to believe that we comprehensively fulfilled our obligations under capital markets law and that the claims are unjustified."

There was little reaction on the Frankfurt stock market to the news, with Volkswagen shares gaining around 1.3%.

Mounting costs

Volkswagen's troubles began after it admitted in September 2015 to installing so-called "defeat devices" in 11 million diesel-powered vehicles worldwide, which increase exhaust treatment when the car detects it is undergoing regulatory tests.

The software deactivates the emissions system when the car is on the road, leading to levels of harmful nitrogen oxides in the exhaust many times higher than allowed.

The admission led to a string of legal claims and investigations around the world.

The VW group has set aside €18-billions to pay for the legal costs of the crisis, and has so far agreed to pay billions in compensation and fines in the United States alone.

Analysts estimate the final bill could reach up to €35-billion.

'Difficult to prove'

Investors had rushed to file compensation claims at the Brunswick court ahead of what they believe to be a one-year deadline to lodge complaints. On Monday alone 750 new claims were registered.

The court said it has taken on extra staff and hired additional storage space to cope -- as the avalanche represents half the number of cases the tribunal normally hears in a year.

"The complete registration of the claims arrived up to now should be finished in four weeks," it said.

A single plaintiff will be designated "in the fourth quarter of 2016 at the earliest," it went on, to represent all the investors wishing to join forces in a common case designed to save legal costs.

German law does not allow for class-action suits.

The case's prospects for success may be limited, however.

"History has shown that it's very difficult to prove damages of this type in Germany and win a legal case like this," analyst Frank Schwope of Nord/LB bank told AFP.

VW might strike out-of-court settlements with some plaintiffs, while the court is unlikely to award the full amount of compensation investors seek, he said.

The carmaker will not find itself reaching for its pocketbook soon as "the case could last for years," he went on.

Volkswagen's share price remains around 20% lower than it was before the crisis broke.

But while the financial pain bites deep for the firm, recent figures show sales are holding up despite the blow to its reputation.



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