BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday told a German parliamentary committee of inquiry on Wednesday that she first learned of the diesel emissions scandal at Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) through the media.
Volkswagen admitted in September 2015 to installing secret software in hundreds of thousands of U.S. diesel cars to cheat exhaust emissions tests and make them appear cleaner than they were on the road, and that as many as 11 million vehicles could have similar software installed worldwide.
“I only found out through media reports,” said Merkel in an unusual appearance as chancellor to the committee of inquiry in the Bundestag lower house of parliament - as its final witness.
Merkel said she had found out about the accusations against Volkswagen on Sept. 19, 2015, and on Sept. 21 was then informed by Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt.
She said she had later spoken by telephone to then Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn, “probably on 22 September”.
Asked what she found out from Winterkorn, she answered: “Nothing that I didn’t already know based on the information from the transport minister and the media.”
Merkel, who was once Germany’s environmental minister, called it unfortunate that Volkswagen, one of Germany’s leading and most influential companies, had misled U.S. authorities.
“The regrettable thing is that VW representatives did not tell the truth to the American environmental agency,” she said. “The Americans have their own standards and they weren’t met (and) when questioned denied that they weren’t being met.”
German opposition parties wanted the parliamentary committee, set up in July 2016, to investigate the government’s response to the scandal because they said Berlin had been too lax in its treatment of the car industry.
Merkel said she felt she had been well informed by Dobrindt and added that he had not only quickly set up an investigation committee in the transport ministry but also called for all the information to be put on the table, which she said had her full support.
Merkel said she did not undertake any detailed interventions into the issue.
She said she did not have the impression that the German authorities responsible had made mistakes or been negligent during the course of the scandal.
Merkel said she did not know why the scandal had not been discovered in Germany: “I don’t have any explanation for that.”
Merkel said that for her, reducing CO2 emissions from cars was in the foreground in the years prior to the scandal compared with emissions of nitrogen oxide, which was problematic with diesel vehicles.
Reporting by Gernot Heller; Writing by Michelle Martin and Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Alison Williams