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September 22, 2016

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VW investors file huge ‘dieselgate’ claims

VOLKSWAGEN investors have filed 1,400 lawsuits seeking 8.2 billion euros (US$9.14 billion) in compensation from the car giant over its emissions cheating scandal, a German court said yesterday, 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 percent in two days after the crisis erupted last September.

The US$9.14 billion 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.

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 euros alone.

A VW spokesman reiterated the carmaker’s position that it “continues to believe that we comprehensively fulfilled our obligations under capital markets law and that the claims are unjustified.”

Volkswagen’s woes began after it admitted in September 2015 to installing so-called “defeat devices” in 11 million diesel-powered vehicles worldwide, which hike 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 billion euros to pay for the legal costs of the crisis, and has so far agreed to pay US$15 billion in compensation and fines in the United States alone. Analysts estimate the final bill could hit 35 billion euros.

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.”

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 said.

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


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