German prosecutors said that the death of a man found in a burning car in Lower Saxony on Monday night is linked to a spy scandal at Volkswagen, Germany’s largest carmaker. Braunschweiger Nachrichten, a local newspaper, on Wednesday night reported that the deceased was a VW employee who had been suspended this month after the carmaker accused him of secretly recording internal meetings about a dispute with a supplier.
The vehicle and body were found in Königslutter, a town about 20km south of Wolfsburg, where VW has its headquarters. A spokeswoman for the office of criminal prosecutors in Braunschweig told the Financial Times that there was “a link” between the death and the spying scandal but declined to give details. The body has not yet been identified and the cause of the fire is unclear, according to prosecutors.
An autopsy found no evidence that someone killed the man, the prosecutors office added. VW declined to comment, saying that it had not received official notification about a possible death of one of its employees. The carmaker earlier this month filed a criminal complaint against one of its employees who worked in a middle-management position in procurement, accusing him of secretly recording around 50 hours of internal meetings in 2017 and 2018.
In the meetings, VW staff discussed the company’s business relationship with Prevent, a Bosnian car-parts supplier that is owned by the family of businessman Nijaz Hastor. Prevent fell out with VW in 2016 over a failed project. Two of its subsidiaries were demanding €58m in damages and stopped delivering car seat covers and transmission parts, bringing production at VW’s largest factory to a temporary standstill. While the carmaker and its supplier later ended the stand-off, legal battles over the dispute are still ongoing.
VW in 2017 and 2018 set up an internal task force that discussed how to deal with the recalcitrant supplier. Secret recordings of those meetings as well as large amounts of written notes about them were last month reported by the German edition of Business Insider. People familiar with the details of the case said that it was unclear why and on whose behalf the meetings were recorded.
In 2018, VW decided to cut all its business relationships with companies that are owned by Prevent. Earlier this month, Braunschweig prosecutors said that they were investigating whether a fire in May that destroyed the house of the suspended VW employee was caused by arson and whether it was linked to the spying scandal. A spokesman for Prevent said the death was a “tragic event” and declined to comment further.