MUNICH -- Former Audi CEO Rupert Stadler is likely to become the first top executive to be convicted in parent Volkswagen Group's diesel-emissions scandal.
A Munich court gave a preliminary assessment on Tuesday that an accusation of fraud had been substantiated.
Stadler, and three other defendants who were engineers, were charged in 2020 over their roles in the scandal after Volkswagen and Audi admitted in 2015 to having used illegal software to cheat on emissions tests.
Presiding judge Stefan Weickert said that Stadler, former Audi executive Wolfgang Hatz and an engineer named Giovanni Pamio could face prison sentences, which would only be suspended "in case of a full confession."
In the case of the fourth defendant, also an engineer, the court did not see any significant evidence of a criminal offence.
Fraud is punishable with up to 10 years in prison under German law. A verdict is expected in the coming months.
The trial is one of the most prominent court proceedings in the aftermath of the VW Group diesel scandal.
Revelations that millions of emissions tests had been manipulated emerged in September 2015.
According to prosecutors, the three engineers manipulated engines in such a way that they complied with legal exhaust emission values on the test bench but not on the road. Stadler is accused of failing to stop the sale of the manipulated cars after the scandal became known.
The court said it saw no evidence substantiating the other charges against the defendants -- indirect involvement in falsification of documents and false advertising tied to illegal pollution levels in its cars.