Exclusive Breaking: U.S. Justice Department Files Federal Complaint Against Volkswagen

The U.S. Justice Department on Monday filed a civil complaint against German automaker Volkswagen Group, potentially seeking tens of billions of dollars in penalties over the Dieselgate emissions-rigging scandal. The complaint, filed in a federal court in Detroit on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, alleges that Volkswagen knowingly installed so-called defeat devices in almost 600,000 of its cars in the United States. Some 11 million cars around the world carried the devices, VW has admitted. “The United States will pursue all appropriate remedies against Volkswagen to redress the violations of our nation’s clean air laws alleged in the complaint,” Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden, who leads the Justice Department’s environmental and natural resources division, said in a statement. In its 30-page complaint, the Justice Department said the charges carry fines of between $32,500 and $37,500 per car. In total, VW could face more than $20 billion in penalties. In response to the action, a Volkswagen spokesperson Monday evening said: “We don’t know the details of the complaint yet and will now assess it.” The company is regularly in touch with the authorities, he added. The complaint is directed at Volkswagen and its subsidiaries Audi and Porsche, which have also been found to have installed the cheat devices. The Justice Department also said its civil filing does not preclude it taking other court action over the Dieselgate scandal. U.S. authorities could still file criminal charges against VW for its violations. According to the complaint, 499,000 2-liter engine cars and another 85,000 3-liter engine cars in the United States are equipped with defeat devices that reduce emissions only during testing to meet the EPA’s standards. During normal driving, the vehicles emitted much higher levels of toxins, violating U.S. laws. The statement also noted that VW had so far failed to issue a proper plan to recall the affected cars in the United States. While VW has handed in plans to recall or fix the affected cars, the EPA and the California Air Resource Board have postponed a final decision on the proposal to mid January. “We’re working on solutions, but we can’t discuss these publicly yet,” the VW spokesperson said. “So far, recall discussions with the company have not produced an acceptable way forward,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator with the EPA’s office of enforcement and compliance assurance in a statement. Discussions will continue even after the complaint has been filed, she added.