The public prosecutor’s office in Braunschweig is very busy with the VW group from neighboring Wolfsburg. In the exhaust gas affair, there are two charges against long-time CEO Martin Winterkorn for suspected fraud. The investigation is far from over, but the next procedure is already emerging. According to the business magazine Business Insider strategy meetings were secretly recorded at Volkswagen’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, which were about how to get rid of an unpopular supplier, the Prevent Group.
The audio files in question are said to be almost 50 hours long. According to the magazine, they show that VW managers were even considering hiring Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Schroeder should use his proximity to Vladimir Putin to prevent Prevent turning off the money in Russia. According to Volkswagen, this idea and other considerations have not been realized. So far, who has spied on Volkswagen for what reason and how exactly it happened has been completely unknown. However, it should be clear that it was an illegal action. Secretly recording conversations is punished with up to three years in prison.
According to a group spokesman, Volkswagen has so far not filed a criminal complaint. However, it is assumed that an investigation will be initiated and that information will be prepared for the public prosecutor. Corporate auditing is already investigating the case that the greatest interest is in the clarification. As the spokesman explained, it is “authentic material”, the recordings are real. These meetings are not official recordings. VW only found out about the eavesdropping after a request from Business Insider.
The dispute between Prevent and VW leads to an industry in which hard bandages fight for orders and prices. Car manufacturers such as Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW purchase numerous parts such as seats from medium-sized companies. For decades, these suppliers have been exposed to pressure from the auto companies, some of which is very high. The delivered parts should be as good as possible, but also as cheap as possible. Almost all medium-sized companies arrange themselves with the manufacturers. Not so Prevent. The group of companies, which is operated by the Hastor family, paralyzed several large VW plants in 2016.
Because the Hastors felt deceived and betrayed by Volkswagen at the time, two companies in the Prevent Group stopped delivering transmission parts and seat covers to the group. Until then and later, no other medium-sized company had dared to do so. From Volkswagen’s perspective, the delivery strike was illegal; the group later canceled all orders that still existed with the Prevent group. The group of companies then filed an extensive claim for damages against VW at the regional court in Frankfurt. In prevention circles there is talk of one to one and a half billion euros that one wants to have from the Wolfsburg group.
The trial in Frankfurt is still ongoing. It is not the only one of this kind. The regional court in Stuttgart is hearing this Thursday about a claim for damages from Prevent against Daimler amounting to 42 million euros. The Hastors are considered to be difficult-to-predict business partners among car companies, who sometimes resorted to unfair means. The Hastors see it the other way around. The days when Volkswagen’s Prevent operators were named “Supplier of the Year” are long gone. There has long been a dispute. And this is now being overlaid by the most likely illegal eavesdropping action.
“Apparently every means right”
From the Prevent environment, it is said that they knew nothing about it and had nothing to do with it. Officially, the group of companies was “shaken” by the fact that VW had installed a working group to get rid of Prevent. This shows that “those responsible at Volkswagen obviously had every means to eliminate independent suppliers”. This committee, entitled “Project 1”, met in 2017 and 2018, with around 15 participants.
It was these meetings that, according to Business Insider, were secretly recorded. Ralf Brandstätter was also involved in the action against Prevent. He recently became head of the VW brand in the group, which includes numerous models from Audi to Seat. This is one of the most influential posts in Wolfsburg. At the company’s headquarters, it is said that Brandstätter did nothing wrong. It was quite normal to think about how Volkswagen could separate itself from the Prevent group. Their delivery strike cost several million euros, and many employees had to go into short-time work. Not the content of the confidential talks about Prevent is the scandal, but the secret recording.
Who was listening to why, whether a VW employee or someone from outside; whether on your own initiative or on behalf of whoever is open. At the moment there is only one thing we can be certain of: from one affair to the next, it doesn’t take long for this industrial group.