Former Volkswagen CEO May Have Known About Cheating Earlier Than Claimed

German prosecutors bumped their suspect count from 21 to 37 people, including Martin Winterkorn.

Former VW CEO Winterkorn Testifies In Bundestag Hearings Over Emissions Scandal
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

German prosecutors believe it's possible that former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn knew that the automaker was cheating on emissions regulations sooner than he previously claimed—and officials are now widening the investigation as a result.

The automaker has said that its executives were unaware of the software cheats until late August 2015, and once they learned of the wrongdoing in early September, went directly to U.S. officials to formally notify the government of the deception. Winterkorn said last week that he had no knowledge of the cheating prior to those events, according to Reuters.

German prosecutors said Friday that they had searched 28 homes and offices this week as part of their investigation, and that the number of people suspected to be connected to the cheating grew to 37 people, from 21, and now includes the former CEO. 

"Sufficient indications have resulted from the investigation, particularly the questioning of witnesses and suspects as well as the analysis of seized data, that the accused [Winterkorn] may have known about the manipulating software and its effects sooner than he has said publicly," prosecutors said in a statement, according to Reuters

Winterkorn and Herbert Diess, Chairman of the VW passenger car brand, have been under German prosecutors' microscopes for potential market manipulation, but now officials are looking into the former CEO for potentially committing fraud

Winterkorn resigned in September 2015, after VW admitted that it used cheat software to receive better results on emissions tests, after leading the German auto group for more than eight years.