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CEO of German automaker Volkswagen Herbert Diess has issued an apology after referring to an infamous Nazi slogan during a corporate management event.
Underlined the importance of increasing the company's profits, Diess employees told "Ebit macht frei", which apparently refers to the German term Arbeit macht frei, which appeared at the entrance to Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps. 19659016] "Ebit" is an abbreviation that refers to the company's earnings before interests and taxes.
In a statement issued on Diess's LinkedIn account, he said he was "extremely sorry" for his "very unfortunate choice of words, and if I had accidentally hurt feelings." Diess also added that Volkswagen has been running activities for three decades to ensure that the company, management, and employees "are aware of Volkswagen's special historical responsibilities in relation to the Third Reich."
In an email to Bloomberg, Volkswagen's Supervisory Board said it strongly distanced itself from the comments "but at the same time notes the immediate excuse of Mr. Diess."
Volkswagen was established in 1937 as part of an effort by Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party to promote a reasonable "people's car" (Volkswagen) for the German public. During World War II, Volkswagen was among the first German companies to benefit from forced labor, the purchase of prisoners of war, concentration camp prisoners – including from Auschwitz and foreign forced laborers to contribute to the continued production of civilian vehicles.
In 1999, Volkswagen opened a permanent exhibition at its original Wolfsburg factory titled "Remembrance of forced labor in the Volkswagen factory." The exhibition aims to clearly present to what extent the company was dependent on forced labor and was involved in Nazi war economics.
Diess's gaffe capped a difficult week for Volkswagen, with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) suing the company and its former CEO Martin Winterkorn over the German automaker's diesel emissions scandal, claiming a "massive scam" on US investors.
Volkswagen was caught using illegal software to cheat US pollution tests in 2015, triggering a global downturn against diesel that has hitherto cost it $ 29 billion. The company admitted to secretly installing software in 500,000 US vehicles to cheat government emissions testing and reported guilty in 2017 for crime charges. Thirteen people have been charged in the United States, including Winterkorn and four Audi leaders.
The SEC package is also called Volkswagen's VW Credit and Volkswagen Group of America Finance LLC, the entity used to sell the securities. VW also faces investor law cases in Braunschweig, Germany.
Reuters contributed to this story.
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