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German Prosecutors Expand Scope of Volkswagen Investigation

German prosecutors have expanded their investigation into the illegal manipulation of tailpipe emissions by Volkswagen, known as the “Dieselgate” scandal, raising the number of suspects to 17, from six.  The investigation is ongoing, and Klaus Ziehe, a spokesman for the state’s attorney’s office in Braunschweig, a city near Volkswagen headquarters in Wolfsburg, stated that he had not ruled out the involvement of top level management at the embattled automaker.  “We are looking at all levels, including the management board level,” he said.

The increasing number of suspects in the German criminal investigation raises the stakes for Volkswagen, even as the company has begun taking takes a more aggressive stance against accusations that knowledge of the wrongdoing was widespread in the company.  In a recent court filing, Volkswagen said that, until last summer, no members of upper management were aware that software in 11 million diesel vehicles had been programmed to cheat on emissions tests. The filing portrayed the software manipulation as the work of “individual employees” whose activities could not be detected by outsiders.

“The management board of Volkswagen had no knowledge either of the programming of the impermissible software nor of its later use in affected diesel motors,” the company said in a document filed on Feb. 29 as part of its defense against lawsuits by shareholders. The shareholders have accused Volkswagen of violating German laws requiring company managers to disclose information that could affect the share price.

In the document, filed with a civil court in Braunschweig, Volkswagen said that the software manipulation had taken place in November 2006 in departments responsible for engine electronics, diesel motor development and motor testing. The cheating occurred, the company said, because Volkswagen employees realized they could not meet emissions rules legally within the time and budget allotted.

Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board began asking questions about Volkswagen emissions in May 2014, after testing by technicians at West Virginia University revealed discrepancies between pollution levels in the lab and on the road.

According to the court filing, upper management at Volkswagen initially regarded the discrepancies as a routine technical issue and did not become aware of possible illegal activity until a year later. Even then, based on similar cases, they expected to be able to settle with regulators quietly and pay a fine in the tens of millions of dollars.  According to the court filing, VW executives continued to believe that they had good relations with the Environmental Protection Agency and were shocked when the agency held a news conference on September 18, 2015 publicly accusing the carmaker of illegal activity. The maximum possible fine for the violation is $18 billion, though the final amount is likely to be substantially less.  It was only after the agency went public, Volkswagen said in the filing, that the management board discussed the issue as a group.

Lawsuits Filed Against VW over Dieselgate Recall

Volkswagen is currently facing hundreds of lawsuits filed by owners of the VW, Audi, and Porsche vehicles involved in the emissions cheating scandal. The German automakers may also be facing billions in fines as a result of a Justice Department lawsuit filed over the Dieselgate scandal. Legal experts say that executives and engineers at VW may also face criminal charges over the company’s emissions cheating, although so far no charges have been filed in the U.S.  So far, VW has set aside $7.4 billion to deal with their potential liability, but experts believe their ultimate exposure could be several times that amount.

The vehicles included in the Volkswagen diesel recall include the 2009-2015 Audi A3 TDI, the 2016 Audi A6 Quattro, the 2016 Audi A7 Quattro, the 2016 Audi A8, the 2016 Audi A8L, the 2016 Audi Q5, the 2015 Porsche Cayenne, the 2009-2015 Volkswagen Beetle TDI, the 2009-2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI, the 2009-2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, the 2012-2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI, and the 2014 Volkswagen Touareg.

VW and Audi Diesel Owners May Qualify to File a Lawsuit

Owners of one of the Volkswagen or Audi “TDI Clean Diesel” models that were recalled by VW may be eligible to join the numerous lawsuits that have already been filed against the German automakers. Numerous commercial fraud lawsuits and class action litigation claims have already been filed against Volkswagen by VW and Audi owners who purchased or leased one of the recalled automobiles. As Volkswagen’s admissions in the Dieselgate scandal have made clear, the company knew for years that it was selling vehicles that failed to meet U.S. emissions standards and fraudulently lied to its customers by touting the eco-friendly technology of these vehicles.

The law firm of Heygood, Orr & Pearson has filed lawsuit on behalf of VW owners whose vehicles were affected by the company’s emissions cheating. One of our partners, Michael Heygood, was recently named to the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee of attorneys who will oversee the early stages of the Multidistrict Litigation (or MDL) in California involving the Dieselgate scandal. Our attorneys expect to remain involved in these cases throughout the litigation process as we work to achieve the best results possible for our clients who were harmed by Volkswagen’s fraudulent conduct.

If you purchased or leased one of the VW, Audi, or Porsche diesel-powered vehicles involved in the Dieselgate recall, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson to learn more about whether you qualify to file a lawsuit. For a free legal consultation about your case, please contact us by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few simple questions to get started.

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