Anger as VW chief executive plays on Nazi slogan at company event

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VW's powerful works council welcomed Diess's "swift clarification and unequivocal apology" for the remark, adding that remembrance and responsibility are part of the company's DNA.

Diess had said "Ebit macht frei", a play on the accounting term "Ebit", which is an acronym to describe "earnings before interest and taxes" and a key part of business financial statements.

Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess is in hot water for what he's now calling "definitely an unfortunate choice of words" he used at a company event Tuesday: "EBIT macht frei".

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Herbert Diess, CEO of German carmaker Volkswagen is surrounded by media during the annual news conference at the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg, Germany March 12, 2019.

"At no time was it my intention for this statement to be placed in a false context", he said. "If I have unintentionally caused offense, I am extremely sorry".

It's been a tough few days for the German manufacturer.

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The Security and Exchange Commission accused Volkswagen and its former CEO Martin Winterkorn of "massive fraud", claiming they made "deceptive claims" about the cars' environmental compliance while raising billions from bond investors.

VW said the SEC complaint is "legally and factually flawed" and the company will "contest it vigorously".

The historical connection between Volkswagen and the Holocaust runs deep. Volkswagen has held memorial events and provided support for those affected by the company's early links to the Nazis. The company was founded in 1937 as part of a plan to ensure Germans could afford a auto, and utilized slave labour from those at concentration camps during World War II.

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Volkswagen's supervisory board on Friday condemned the auto giant's chief executive for evoking a chilling Nazi slogan to highlight the importance of boosting profits.