Volkswagen’s head of compliance — an outsider hired to help revamp the German carmaker after its diesel deception — is to leave her job barely a year after joining the company.
The unexpected departure of the executive, Christine Hohmann-Dennhardt, raises concerns about the automaker’s willingness to change ingrained practices, a culture that contributed to the decision to install software designed to cheat emissions tests in more than 11 million cars.
Just a few weeks ago, the company pleaded guilty in the United States to criminal charges tied to the deception. Seven Volkswagen executives have been charged in relation to the scandal, and the automaker has agreed to pay $20 billion to resolve civil and criminal charges related to it.
Ms. Hohmann-Dennhardt, a former executive at the rival carmaker Daimler who took the job in January 2016, was the first woman to join Volkswagen’s board. She was responsible for integrity and legal affairs, and she will be replaced by Hiltrud Werner, Volkswagen’s chief auditor.
Volkswagen said Ms. Hohmann-Dennhardt had toughened the company’s compliance rules and changed its culture. But it noted in a statement that she was leaving “due to differences in their understanding of responsibilities and future operating structures within the function she leads.”
Questions of culture and accountability have dogged Volkswagen since the revelation in September 2015 that it had been hiding excess pollutants during testing by regulators.
Though Volkswagen first said that the moves to evade the rules had been the work of a handful of engineers, the litany of civil and criminal cases against the company in the United States and around the world has offered a different narrative.
The American authorities have described a conspiracy involving engine developers, software experts, compliance managers and others. Six Volkswagen employees have been charged in the case; a seventh has pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud regulators and car owners.
Volkswagen presented Ms. Hohmann-Dennhardt’s departure as one that was mutually agreed on. But the loss of a rare outsider in the top ranks underscores the insular nature of the company.
Its stock is held by a small number of shareholders: Two families, a German state and the government of Qatar jointly hold about 90 percent of Volkswagen shares. That leaves outside investors with little voice and results in a management board typically made up of insiders with a long track record at the carmaker.
Ms. Hohmann-Dennhardt had been an exception.
“No matter what spin they put on” her departure, said Jeff Thinnes, a former Daimler executive who advises European companies on compliance and ethics issues, “the optics couldn’t be worse.”