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German prosecutors open investigation into Volkswagen's Winterkorn

Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn looks at his watch

Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn looks at his watch during the annual press conference of Volkswagen AG in Berlin, March 12, 2015. Credit: AP

BERLIN - Prosecutors in Germany have opened a criminal probe into former Volkswagen AG Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn after the manufacturer admitted it cheated emissions tests in some of its diesel cars.

The investigation targets accusations of fraud tied to the sale of vehicles, and will try to determine who was responsible for seeking to circumvent emissions regulations, prosecutors in Braunschweig, Germany, said in an e-mailed statement on Monday. Volkswagen has also filed a criminal complaint in the case with the same authorities to assist with its own investigation.

The probe comes five days after Winterkorn stepped down as CEO amid a scandal that wiped 23 billion euros ($25.7 billion) from Volkswagen's market value. Switzerland on Friday banned sales of affected VW models, while German regulators said Volkswagen needs to provide a solution for some 2.8 million cars in Germany by Oct. 7 or risk them being pulled off the road.

The German government is "working hard to contain the damage," Peter Altmaier, chief of staff to Chancellor Angela Merkel, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Berlin. The government is keen to ensure that the reputation of German cars in general is "not damaged."

Winterkorn was replaced on Friday by Matthias Mueller, the head of the Porsche car brand. A VW spokesman didn't immediately respond to a phone call and email seeking comment about the criminal probe.

Volkswagen tumbled as much as 8.2 percent on Monday in Frankfurt, taking its drop since the diesel cheating became public on Sept. 18 to 39 percent.

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