The German state of Lower Saxony, VW’s second-largest shareholder, refused to go along with the Porsche and Piech families in ratifying the actions last year of two company executives.
The German state of Lower Saxony, Volkswagen’s second-largest shareholder with 20 percent of voting stock, refused to sign off on the actions last year of two of the carmaker’s board members in an unusual public split among the carmaker’s owners.
At the first shareholder meeting since the emissions-cheating scandal erupted, Lower Saxony abstained from a vote to ratify the actions in 2015 of Martin Winterkorn, who was chief executive officer at the time, and current VW brand chief Herbert Diess.
Both are under investigation by German prosecutors for possible market manipulation linked to the timing of the public notification of the scandal.
Though the vote is largely symbolic, Lower Saxony’s move puts it at odds with the Porsche and Piech families, which own 52 percent of Volkswagen’s voting stock and used their clout to ensure both men were backed by a majority of shareholder votes.
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The rift capped a tumultuous annual meeting where Chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch, the chief financial officer when the cheating occurred, bore the brunt of investor dissatisfaction over the automaker’s handling of the scandal. The meeting dragged on for more than 12 hours, with many institutional investors encouraging owners with voting stock not to ratify the performance of the management and supervisory boards last year.
“You are a conflict of interest personified,” Markus Dufner, managing director of the German Association of Ethical Shareholders, said referring to Poetsch.
During the gathering, which often descended into shouting and arguing, shareholders tried twice to unseat Poetsch as meeting chairman.
“The crisis is a crisis of trust,” said Gerd Kuhlmeyer, who represents a coalition of employee shareholders and described seeing tears in VW workers’ eyes over the scandal. “Customers’ trust has been lost and needs to be won back, and so must the trust of investors.”