Newspaper article International New York Times

U.S. Sues VW in Civil Court over Emissions ; Justice Department Says Its Case Doesn't Preclude Possible Criminal Charges

Newspaper article International New York Times

U.S. Sues VW in Civil Court over Emissions ; Justice Department Says Its Case Doesn't Preclude Possible Criminal Charges

Article excerpt

In a civil complaint, the Justice Department says the company installed devices to thwart emissions tests in nearly 600,000 diesel engine systems, thereby increasing air pollution.

The United States Justice Department challenged the German automaker Volkswagen in federal court on Monday, saying that the company had installed illegal devices in nearly 600,000 diesel engine systems to impair emission controls, thereby increasing harmful air pollution.

The civil complaint, filed in Detroit, comes after Volkswagen admitted in September that it had installed software designed to cheat on emissions tests in 11 million of its diesel vehicles worldwide, setting off one of the largest corporate scandals in the auto industry's history.

Since then, the automaker's chief executive, Martin Winterkorn, has resigned, nine employees have been suspended, and the company has begun the twin tasks of designing fixes for the vehicles and containing consumer outrage and litigation.

Regulators in India, South Korea, Germany and elsewhere are conducting investigations, as are attorneys general in all 50 American states. The Justice Department has been seen as the only agency that might hold executives personally accountable.

But given the cascade of revelations, the civil complaint, which does not involve criminal charges or name any company executives, is something of a blow to the Obama administration's highly promoted new strategy for getting tough on corporate crime.

The Justice Department has gained a reputation in recent years for forcing companies to pay big fines, while sparing the executives involved. In September, Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates said that impression had weakened public confidence and vowed to change it.

Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency's office of enforcement and compliance assurance, said the civil action allowed the United States to "take an important step to protect public health by seeking to hold Volkswagen accountable for any unlawful air pollution, setting us on a path to resolution."

"So far, recall discussions with the company have not produced an acceptable way forward," she added. …

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