By Candace Kellner
Volkswagen has admitted to deliberately programming half a million diesel-powered cars in the U.S. to emit lower levels of harmful gases in official tests to pass U.S. emission tests. However, these cars may have actually been pumping out nitrogen oxides at 40 times the permitted level. According to CNN, the company says that anyone involved will face the “full consequences,” and it has pledged to cooperate with German prosecutors on a criminal investigation.
Employees involved in the scandal could be prosecuted for fraud and if convicted, they face large fines and a maximum sentencing of 10 years in prison, reported CNN. Prosecutors must be able to prove that Volkswagen employees distorted facts to trick people into buying their cars. Volkswagen has claimed to be a sustainable automaker for years and has promoted their “clean diesel” cars, which have been commercially successful, CNN said.“They are positioning themselves as the champions of sustainability,” said Theo Vermaelen, a finance professor at INSEAD, a graduate business school program in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, he told CNN. Legal experts say that lying about emissions to persuade people to buy Volkswagen cars would be considered fraud. Under German law, the sentencing for fraud is a maximum of five years in prison or 10 years in serious cases.
If prosecutors prove Volkswagen employees installed the software for financial benefit of the company they could prosecute under the harsher “serious case” terms, according to CNN.
A spokesman for Volkswagen said the company is ready to take to court people from inside the company who broke the rules reported CNN. In Germany, criminal law only applies to individuals so the company itself cannot be prosecuted for fraud. According to CNN, anyone found guilty can be fined as much as 360 times their daily net salary.
Volkswagen has already set aside money to cover vehicle recalls and other costs but the funds may be nowhere near enough. The company has already faced dozens of civil lawsuits in the U.S. from Volkswagen owners. The owners claim that their cars are less valuable due to its emission testing scandal, according to CNN.
Its spokesman told CNN that federal prosecutors are taking the allegations “very seriously.” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said his office has launched its own criminal investigation.