The U.S. Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation into Volkswagen after the automaker admitted to cheating on EPA emissions tests.
The German automaker’s admission now puts pressure on CEO Martin Winterkorn to repair the damage as Volkswagen faces possible prosecution or regulatory action in the U.S. and Europe. The investigation comes at a time that the Justice Department seeks to increase prosecutions of individuals for corporate crimes, especially in light of the massive ignition switch recall that involved General Motors.
Volkswagen admitted last week that it has fitted some of its U.S. diesel vehicles with software that turns on full pollution control only when the car is undergoing official emissions testing. It has been reported that essentially the German automaker had a “test mode” to use when the vehicle is on a dyno and once it was taken off test mode, the vehicles polluted 10 to 40 times more the legal limits, EPA estimated.
A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee is planning to hold a hearing for the matter in the coming weeks and the European Commission is also taking Volkswagen’s cheating seriously and working with U.S. regulators to see if there are possible rules violations overseas.
In the U.S., the violations could result in as much as $18 billion in fines.
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