US states seek 'substantial penalties' from VW
By Peter Teffer
Volkswagen's emission fraud began earlier than previously thought, was deliberately done to mislead regulators, executed with the knowledge of upper management, and was covered up.
That harsh summary of what became known as Dieselgate, was given on Tuesday (19 July) by three United States law enforcement chiefs - the attorneys general in the states New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland - who announced they wanted “substantial penalties” from the German industrial giant.
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“The allegations against Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche reveal a culture of deeply rooted corporate arrogance, combined with a conscious disregard for the rule of law or the protection of public health and the environment,” New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman said in his lawsuit, according to US media.
He said that internal documents from Volkswagen Group (VW) proved that the company decided to use cheating software to turn off emissions filtering systems in diesel cars as far back as 1999.
It was at VW's daughter company Audi where engineers tried to solve a noise problem in their cars' diesel engine. They found a solution, but one that made the car emit more pollution. To still pass the emissions tests, the noise reduction tool was switched off during the test.
The software was later used in other cars as well. Senior executives covered up evidence, the lawsuit said.
Schneiderman called the strategy a “willful and systematic scheme of cheating by dozens of employees at all levels of the company”.
The lawsuit comes less than a month since VW settled with American consumers and the US government for around €13.2 billion.
Schneiderman's counterpart from Massachusetts, Maura Healey, said that regardless of any settlement, state environment laws were violated.
“With today’s action, we want to make clear to all auto manufacturers that violating laws designed to protect our environment and our public health is unacceptable and will be punished with significant penalties,” said Healey.
Schneiderman added tough words of his own.
“These suits should serve as a siren in every corporate board room, that if any company engages in this type of calculated and systematic illegality, we will bring the full force of the law - and seek the stiffest possible sanctions - to protect our citizens,” he said.
The tough language by the US authorities stands in sharp contrast with the situation in the EU.
Although some countries have carried out investigations, Volkswagen has not yet been criminally charged for the use of cheating software, or defeat devices, which are banned under EU law.