FRANKFURT AM MAIN: The head of German car giant Volkswagen, still grappling with the fallout from a huge emissions cheating scandal, on Friday defended his 10-million-euro salary by saying it made up for the risk of having “one foot in jail”.
In an interview with news weekly Der Spiegel, Matthias Mueller said he did not understand the fuss in Germany about chief executives’ pay packets.
“It’s an extremely emotional topic,” said Mueller, who took home just over 10 million euros ($12.3 million) in 2017, up 40 percent on the previous year.
The salary boost came as Europe’s largest carmaker roared back to profit levels not seen since before the devastating “dieselgate” crisis erupted in 2015, when VW admitted to installing software in millions of diesel cars designed to dupe pollution tests.
The scandal has so far cost the group more than 25 billion euros in buybacks, fines and compensation, and it remains mired in legal woes at home and abroad.
Mueller said a CEO’s salary was determined mainly by the company’s importance to the national economy as well as the responsibilities and risks shouldered by the boss.
“As such, one always has one foot in jail,” Mueller told the magazine.
“Considering these responsibilities, our salaries are justified,” he added.
Two former VW employees are serving years-long jail sentences in the United States over the “dieselgate” fraud, and several VW executives have faced charges from US authorities.
Although diesel sales have fallen, consumers appear to have largely shrugged off the controversy, helping VW to book record sales last year and a net profit of 11.4 billion euros.
Mueller also pointed out that the 12-brand VW group — which includes Porsche, Audi and Skoda — recently changed its remuneration structure, and said under the old rules he would have earned as much as 14 million euros last year.
“So I gave up a large sum,” he said.
Mueller was only Germany’s fifth best-paid CEO last year, a study released Friday by the HKP Group consultancy found.
The top earner was software giant SAP’s boss Bill McDermott at just over 21 million euros, followed by Dieter Zetsche of luxury carmaker Daimler who took home 13 million euros.