Germany sets deadline for Volksagen auto-fix plan

28 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Legal woes mounting for Volkswagen as criminal cases loom.

Those are among the questions that state and federal investigators want answered as they plunge into the emissions scandal at Volkswagen, which has cost the chief executive his job, caused stock prices to plummet, and could result in billions of dollars in fines. Legal experts say the German automaker is likely to face significant legal problems, including potential criminal charges, arising from its admission that 11 million of its diesel vehicles sold worldwide contained software specifically designed to help cheat emissions tests. The Environmental Protection Agency has accused VW of installing sophisticated stealth software that enabled ‘‘clean diesel’’ versions of its Passat, Jetta, Golf, and Beetle models to detect when they were being tested and emit less-polluting exhaust than in real-world driving conditions.

The agency says the ‘‘defeat devices’’ allowed those models to belch up to 40 times the allowed amounts of harmful fumes in order to improve driving performance. ‘‘If there is sufficient evidence to show that Volkswagen intentionally programmed its vehicles to override the emission control devices, the company and any individuals involved could face criminal charges under the Clean Air Act, and for conspiracy, fraud, and false statements,’’ said David M. He called criminal charges ‘‘almost certain.’’ But Uhlmann cautioned that hauling the executives involved into a US courtroom could be challenging, because much of the conduct at issue probably occurred overseas. While the United States has an extradition treaty with Germany, European regulators also are investigating and could claim first dibs on prosecuting company officials. In July 1973, the agency found that VW had installed temperature-sensitive devices that turned off emissions controls on about 25,000 Fastback, Squareback, and bus models.

Chief executive Martin Winterkorn resigned on Wednesday, and Volkswagen announced it would set aside $7.3 billion to cover the cost of the scandal, but even that may not be enough. Bild am Sonntag said VW’s internal investigation has found a 2007 letter from parts supplier Bosch warning Volkswagen not to use the software during regular operation.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung said a Volkswagen technician raised concerns about illegal practices in connection with emissions levels in 2011. Investigators will almost certainly look for any false statements made to the EPA and for signs that VW has tried to conceal wrongdoing or obstruct regulators.

And money laundering allegations will be explored if investigators suspect that VW sent illicit proceeds overseas. ‘‘If a software package such as this were intentionally designed to defeat the emissions testing, there may well be e-mail traffic, meetings, records that would establish that intent,’’ said Gregory Linsin, a former environmental crimes prosecutor at the Justice Department. The last two major criminal investigations against auto companies — Toyota and General Motors — yielded massive fines over car safety problems but have resulted in no prosecutions of executives. Those outcomes dismayed consumer watchdog groups and grieving victims’ relatives, who demanded better accountability for failure to disclose vehicle defects. A memo this month by Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates sought to reaffirm the Justice Department’s commitment to prosecuting employees and executives, directing among other policy mandates that corporations pushing for credit for cooperating with the government must first turn over evidence against individuals. ‘‘Volkswagen has a fundamental choice to make,’’ said Uhlmann, the former prosecutor. ‘‘That is whether it intends to cooperate and seek leniency, or whether it wants to fight the charges.

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