Continental's former Chief Financial Officer Wolfgang Schaefer, whose contract was abruptly terminated this week, and two other former executives, are among the 61 suspects German prosecutors have been investigating over the supplier's role in the Volkswagen Group diesel scandal.
The probe into Schaefer, as well as ex-board members Elmar Degenhart and Jose Avila, has now been turned into a criminal case based on allegations of aiding fraud and breach of trust, said Oliver Eisenhauer, a spokesman for Hanover prosecutors.
Continental did not immediately reply to a call seeking comment. Bloomberg was unable to contact the three former executives.
The overall investigation is focused on the supplier’s role in a scandal over diesel cheating that continues to trouble VW.
Previously, the three executives and two other high ranking managers, were only probed for failing to properly supervise staff, which is only an administrative offense. The investigation could now also lead to financial sanctions for the company by seizing illegal profit it may have made, Eisenhauer said.
The move came after a fresh round of raids last week at Continental's compliance department based in Frankfurt and the home of a former employee in the unit. Prosecutors also seized documents from a law firm that conducted an internal investigation, which may have had serious shortcomings, according to Eisenhauer.
German prosecutors raided Continental premises several times in recent years following allegations the Hanover-based manufacturer helped VW cheat emissions tests.
Continental supplied technology for VW’s 1.6-liter diesel engine used in cars across Europe. The engine-control software for the main 2.0-liter engine at the heart of the VW scandal -- which was also used in the U.S. -- came from Continental's rival Robert Bosch.
Continental is the world's sixth-largest automotive supplier on Automotive News' top global suppliers ranking, with 2020 sales to automakers of $29.68 billion.