BERLIN (Reuters) – The government of Germany’s Lower Saxony on Sunday denied a newspaper report that its premier softened speeches critical of Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) in the diesel emissions scandal at the company’s request.
Stephan Weil, already facing an unexpected election after the defection of a member of his ruling coalition to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, is under fire for what some see as a too-cozy relationship with VW.
The mass circulation newspaper Bild am Sonntag quoted a VW employee as saying that the company “rewrote and watered down” an October 2015 speech by Weil to the state legislature about the diesel scandal after Weil shared a draft with the company.
“This was no fact check,” the paper quoted the employee as saying.
Weil called VW “a pearl of German industry” in the speech, but other passages were removed, the newspaper reported, including one in which he called for company officials to be held accountable “regardless of their place in the hierarchy.”
Weil’s office issued a two-page statement on Sunday denying the charges and calling the report “distorting and misleading.”
It acknowledged that it had in fact asked the company to fact-check the speech given the sensitivity of “difficult” discussions with U.S. authorities about the rigging of U.S. emissions tests.
It said only very few changes suggested by VW were actually adopted, adding: “There were definitely no substantial changes between the first draft and the speech as ultimately delivered.”
Weil, who is a member of VW’s supervisory board, also sharply criticized VW leadership in the speech for not disclosing its emissions rigging until a year after it first began discussions with U.S. officials, his office said.
It said there had been no consultation about speeches or remarks with VW for several months, since the “situation between VW and the U.S. authorities has now been cleared up.”
VW executive Oliver Schmidt pleaded guilty last week in a U.S. court in connection with the emissions scandal that has cost the German automaker as much as $25 billion.
The controversy about Weil’s speech erupted amid renewed questions about close ties between German politicians and German car makers, and whether they prevented the German government from acting sooner to address the widening emissions scandal.
Critics have also blasted the outcome of last week’s diesel summit, saying that the German government should have insisted on harsher steps to rein in diesel emissions, but was…