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柴油門導致大眾損失300億歐元,但高管未受影響

Christiaan Hezner 2019年10月14日

大眾監事委員會在一則聲明中指出,兩位涉事高管“依然會留任”。

盡管在9月下旬,以首席執行官赫伯特·迪耶斯和董事長潘師為首的大眾高管團隊因為四年前的柴油門排放欺詐事件遭到了刑事指控,并陷入了困境,但到9月25日,他們得到了大眾強有力的監事委員會的力挺。

監事委員會在一則聲明中指出,這兩位高管“依然會留任”。這個決定在9月25日的特別會議上得到公司監事委員會的全票通過。

柴油門事件于2015年9月曝光,已經為大眾帶來了約300億歐元的損失,其中包括德國政府總計23億歐元的罰款。這并非是大眾在德國第一次越過法律紅線。奧迪的老板魯伯特·斯塔德勒于2018年7月在公司被捕,原因在于慕尼黑當局在竊聽其電話后擔心他會篡改證據,并影響與排放爭議有關的證人證詞。

有關迪耶斯操控資本市場的指控并不是第一次。這位奧地利人最初在2016年6月就成為了這方面的嫌犯。確實,負責監督管理層的監事委員會在去年4月承認,不管怎么樣,公司曾經圍繞是否任命迪耶斯擔任這一職務討論過法律風險。

摩根大通的汽車分析師何塞·阿蘇門迪認為,這位大眾首席執行官的工作不會因此而受到影響,在這一重要職務上,他深受人們的愛戴。阿蘇門迪說,資本經營者主要關注的是迪耶斯能否確保大眾滿足歐洲的2020年汽車排放目標,改善盈利能力,尤其是大眾品牌的盈利能力,以及維持其在中國這一關鍵市場的主導地位。

阿蘇門迪向《財富》雜志透露:“這些指控都已經存在多年。投資者的核心工作之一就是管理風險并進行觀察,而迪耶斯被視為這一方面的佼佼者,也是極少數有能力管理像大眾這樣復雜集團的管理者之一。”

德國檢方對大眾高管有關市場操縱的犯罪調查進行了總結,提交了一份長達636頁的指控,稱大眾高管在柴油門事件暴露前幾周共謀蓄意隱瞞排放欺詐新聞。

除了迪耶斯之外,他們的指控對象還包括現任大眾集團董事長潘師(丑聞爆發時曾經擔任首席財務官)以及時任首席執行官文德恩。調查稱他們三人至少在2015年7月底之前對排放欺詐完全知情,但沒有一個人按法律要求向股東披露其財務風險。

這些指控還強調了集團企業治理存在的一些持續問題。就文德恩而言,當時這位蒙羞的資深首席執行官在數天后即將續約,但隨后的丑聞讓他丟掉了飯碗。不過,盡管政府當局在2017年3月首次突襲了大眾總部,但斯塔德勒在兩個月后依然拿下了奧迪首席執行官的新一屆任期。

最高可獲五年監禁

關于此案,州檢察官搬來了超過滿滿22箱的文件和證據。至于是否受理這一案件,如今取決于大眾總部沃爾夫斯堡附近的布倫瑞克地方法院。預計法院明年才能做出這個決定,而且裁決的時間會更長。

即便法院經過庭審后認定高管們為保護股價而欺騙股東,那么法官對這三名高管的判決也并沒有定數,有可能是高額罰金,也有可能是高達五年的監禁。

即便是罰金和牢獄之災,哪怕還是異常遙遠的事情,也不大可能影響大眾集團首席執行官對權力固若金湯的掌控。

杜伊斯堡-埃森大學汽車研究中心的創始人富迪蘭德·杜登霍夫教授說:“迪耶斯對于爭議并不回避。他現身電視脫口秀節目,盡管他的顧問可能會建議他不要這么做……不過他還是去了,這也顯示了他的自信。”

沒有確鑿的證據

一位了解監事會想法的知情人士向《財富》雜志透露,在9月25日討論這一事情的五位監事會成員對于指控證據無動于衷,特別是考慮到他們自己此前已經開展了這方面的調查。

知情人士說:“三年半以來,監事會委托的獨立律師已經對證據進行了事無巨細的調查。就算半夜給律師打電話,他們都可以將這一事件娓娓道來。因此問題在于,檢方如今是否突然得到了一些新的違法證據,還是說掌握了任何確鑿的證據?”

鑒于這些指控并非是什么新罪名,摩根大通的阿蘇門迪認為專業股東也不會因此而對公司施壓。他們在購買股票時可能已經考慮了高管被捕的問題。

給予大眾優先股“買入”評級的阿蘇門迪說:“通過與他人交談得知,這兩位(迪耶斯和潘師)得到了投資界的全力支持。”

一位意想不到的人物向迪耶斯伸出了援手——特斯拉的首席執行官對其進行了聲援。出于抱團取暖的目的,埃隆·馬斯克在推文中寫道:“在所有向電動進軍的大型汽車生產商中,迪耶斯付出的更多。世界的利益應該放在第一位。不管怎么樣,我力挺他。”(財富中文網)

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譯者:馮豐

審校:夏林

Volkswagen Group’s powerful supervisory board on September 25 threw its full support behind the embattled leadership team of Herbert Diess and Hans Dieter P?tsch, the company’s chief executive and chairman who were indicted earlier this week on criminal charges related to the four-year-old Dieselgate emissions-cheating scandal.

Both men, the supervisory board said in a statement, “are to remain in office. This was unanimously decided on September 25 by the company’s Supervisory Board in an extraordinary meeting.”

First brought to light in September 2015, Dieselgate has already cost the company roughly €30 billion euros, including a total of €2.3 billion in German fines. This is not the carmaker’s first brush with the law in Germany. Audi boss Rupert Stadler was arrested on the job in July 2018 after Munich authorities, who had tapped his phone, feared he was tampering with evidence and influencing witness testimony connected to the emissions controversy.

The allegations of manipulating capital markets levied at Diess are not new. The Austrian first became a suspect in June 2016. Indeed, the supervisory board tasked with management oversight acknowledged in April of last year that it had discussed the legal risks before moving ahead with his appointment anyway.

JP Morgan auto analyst Jose Asumendi believes the VW CEO will be able to continue on the job unimpeded. He’s well liked where it counts. Money managers, he said, are primarily focused on whether Diess can ensure the carmaker meets Europe’s 2020 fleet emission targets, improve profitability especially at the VW brand and maintain its dominance in the crucial Chinese market.

“These allegations have been known for three years,” Asumendi told Fortune. “One of the core jobs of an investor is to manage risk and take a view, and Diess is seen as being best in class, one of the very few people capable of managing a group as complex as Volkswagen.”

District prosecutors in Germany concluded their criminal investigation into market manipulation on Tuesday, delivering a 636-page indictment that claimed Volkswagen’s top executives had conspired with intent to withhold news of the emissions fraud in the weeks leading up to its uncovering.

Along with Diess, they also charged P?tsch, the current VW Group Chairman and the finance chief at the time the scandal broke, as well as the then-CEO, Martin Winterkorn. Together the three are alleged to have had full knowledge of the fraud by the end of July 2015 at the latest, and that none of the three chose to inform shareholders of the financial risks as required by law.

The charges highlight the continuing problems with the group’s corporate governance. In the case of Winterkorn, the disgraced veteran CEO was days away from a contract extension before the scandal cost him his job. Stadler secured himself another term as Audi CEO in May 2017, just two months after authorities first raided the company’s headquarters.

Up to five years behind bars

It is now up to a regional court in Brunswick, near VW’s headquarters of Wolfsburg, to determine whether to hear the case after attorneys for the state brought over 22 moving boxes full of documentation and evidence. A decision is not expected until next year and a ruling could take much longer.

Should they be tried and found guilty of deceiving shareholders to protect the stock price, a judge could sentence the trio to anything from a hefty fine to a prison term lasting up to five years.

Even the prospect of fines and jail, however remote, is unlikely to undermine the VWGroup CEO's rock-solid hold on power.

“Diess is not one to skirt controversy,” said Professsor Ferdinand Dudenh?ffer, founder of the Center Automotive Research (CAR) at the University of Duisburg-Essen. “He appears in TV talk show against the likely recommendation of his advisors... But he does it anyway, and it demonstrates how self-assured he is.”

No smoking gun

A company source familiar with the supervisory board's thinking told Fortune the five ranking directors who discussed the matter on September 25 were unimpressed with the substance of the charges, particularly after having conducted an investigation of their own.

“Independent lawyers mandated by the board have been intensively sifting through evidence for three and a half years. You can call them up in the middle of the night and they can recite the issues at length, so the question is whether the prosecutor has now suddenly come across any new legally damning evidence, any smoking gun?” the person said.

Given that these allegations were previously known, JP Morgan’s Asumendi does not expect any pressure to come from professional shareholders either. They would have already taken the prospect of arrest into consideration before buying stock.

“Based on the conversations I have had, the two (Diess and P?tsch) enjoy the full backing of the investment community,” said Asumendi, who rates VW preferred shares a buy.

Diess also received support from an unusual corner yesterday when the CEO of Tesla sprang to his defense. “Herbert Diess is doing more than any big carmaker to go electric. The good of the world should come first,” tweeted Elon Musk in a demonstration of solidarity. “For what it’s worth, he has my support.”

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