Newspaper article International New York Times

In Cheating Query , VW Looks for Informants

Newspaper article International New York Times

In Cheating Query , VW Looks for Informants

Article excerpt

In a letter to employees, a top official said people who provided information about its test-cheating scandal would not be fired.

Volkswagen, trying to get to the bottom of its emissions- cheating scandal, has pressured employees to tell what they know, announcing an amnesty program for informants that will expire at the end of the month.

The company has yet to explain publicly who was responsible for installing software in 11 million diesel vehicles that was designed to disguise the output of nitrogen oxide, a pollutant harmful to the lungs. Volkswagen also admitted, just last week, that it underreported the levels of carbon dioxide produced by about 800,000 of its diesel and gasoline vehicles in Europe and that had it exaggerated their fuel economy.

In a letter to employees on Thursday, Herbert Diess, chief executive of the division that produces Volkswagen brand cars, said people who provided information would not be fired or face damage claims. Mr. Diess cautioned, though, that the company could not shield employees from criminal charges.

The amnesty offer is valid through Nov. 30, Mr. Diess wrote, according to excerpts from the letter reviewed by The New York Times. The offer applies only to workers who are covered by collective bargaining agreements; it excludes top management.

While corporate amnesty programs are rare, the approach has been used successfully in Germany at least once before. Siemens, an electronics and engineering company based in Munich, used such an offer in 2008 to encourage employees to provide information during an investigation into bribery of officials abroad. Dozens of employees came forward.

Legal experts said it is unclear how often corporations in the United States offer job amnesty to employees in investigations. That is because, typically, there is little public reporting about the inquiry, the investigations are conducted quietly within the company, and there is often an effort not to alert large numbers of employees to avoid the possible destruction of evidence.

"It is not a common practice," said Alexandra Wrage, president of Trace International, a company in Annapolis, Md., that provides advice to companies on compliance issues. "It's a tacit admission, however, that the usual reporting channels have been ineffective."

By offering job amnesty, Volkswagen might accomplish two things, said Mike Koehler, a law professor at Southern Illinois University who conducted internal investigations for nearly a decade while in private practice: Demonstrate to law-enforcement agencies that it is pursuing all avenues in its internal investigation, and reach out beyond the company's executive ranks to better understand what happened.

"The amnesty program is not so much designed for the people who are viewed as culpable actors, but rather, for the midlevel people who may have, without even knowing it, some relevant information," Mr. …

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