German prosecutors probe possible death of suspended VW employee

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Prosecutors in Braunschweig, Germany, on Wednesday said they were investigating the death of a man found in a burned-out car on Monday to determine whether there were any links to a dispute between Volkswagen VOWG_p.DE and Bosnian supplier group Prevent.

A body was found in a field in Lower Saxony on Monday, a spokeswoman for the Braunschweig prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday.

Local newspaper Helmstedter Nachrichten, citing sources, said the dead person was a Volkswagen employee who had done business with the Bosnian supplier group, who was also being probed for potentially illegal recordings of conversations.

A spokesman for police in Wolfsburg, Lower Saxony, Germany, where Volkswagen is based, confirmed a body had been found in Rottorf, Helmstedt, but referred further queries to the Braunschweig prosecutor’s office.

The Braunschweig prosecutor’s office declined to comment on whether the dead person was a Volkswagen employee, adding that it had not yet been possible to formally confirm the identity of the deceased.

The Braunschweig prosecutor’s office however said its staff were now looking at whether the death was linked to the staffer at the centre of the VW eavesdropping probe, and whether there were links to an arson attack on the VW staff member’s house in May.

Preliminary findings by forensic staff, who examined the body on Tuesday, had shown no obvious signs of “outside interference” which may have caused the death, the prosecutor’s office said.

Volkswagen on Wednesday said it would be inappropriate to speculate on the matter given that the carmaker had not received official notification about a possible death of one of its employees, and could not comment on an ongoing investigation.

Volkswagen earlier this month said one of its employees had been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation into eavesdropping.

Volkswagen and the Bosnian supplier group fell out in 2016 in a disagreement over pricing, prompting Car Trim and ES Automobilguss, both part of Bosnia’s Prevent Group, to halt deliveries of seat covers and cast iron parts for gear boxes, causing production losses at six of VW’s factories.

VW and Prevent have since been involved in claims and counterclaims for damages caused by the dispute.

A spokesman for Prevent Group on Wednesday declined to comment on the death. “It is a tragic event. There is nothing more to be said about it,” he said.

Reporting by Edward Taylor; editing by Jonathan Oatis