With six of its current or former managers facing indictment in the U.S. for their role in the company’s diesel emissions scandal, Volkswagen is reportedly advising senior officials not to travel to the United States.
During a news conference this week announcing a $4.3 billion settlement of its VW investigation, U.S. Department of Justice officials said they were not only going after a “faceless” corporation, but also seeking to hold responsible “flesh-and-blood individuals.”
One Volkswagen manager was indicted last year, pleading guilty and agreeing to assist the probe. This week, six other senior managers were indicted by the DOJ. One was arrested in Florida ahead of the settlement announcement. Five others are now in Germany and, at least for the moment, out of the government’s reach.
Saying the goal was to seek out “the individuals responsible for orchestrating this damaging conspiracy,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the investigation would remain open, suggesting still other managers, perhaps even top Volkswagen executives, could yet be charged.
Indeed, several top execs are under investigation in Germany, including former VW CEO Martin Winterkorn. Prosecutors in Braunschweig, Germany, are exploring whether he and other officials knowingly concealed information about the diesel emissions scandal from shareholders.
Separately, investors continue to pursue monetary damages, claiming that they lost significant value in their VW holdings as a result of the scandal.
(VW agrees to $4.3 billion criminal settlement in diesel scandal. For more, Click Here.)
Of the six newly announced indictments, only one VW manager has been arrested. Oliver Schmidt was nabbed at the Miami International Airport on Saturday while attempting to return to Europe following a Cuban vacation.
When VW was first advised there was evidence its diesel engine control software had been rigged, Schmidt reportedly wrote to a colleague saying that, “It should first be decided whether we are honest. If we are not honest, everything stays as it is.” Schmidt later provided a VW official an analysis of what sort of penalties VW might face.
He is currently being held without bail, federal prosecutors arguing Schmidt is a flight risk.
(Click Here for more on the weekend arrest.)
As to the others, they are now in Germany, a country whose constitution allows extradition only within the European Union or to international courts. That said, Attorney General Lynch noted the U.S. has a good working relationship with Germany and hopes to find a way to bring those charged to trial.
In the meantime, VW appears to be taking steps to keep other potential targets for prosecution out of reach.
“Several Volkswagen managers have been advised not to travel to the United States,” the Reuters news service said it was told by one legal adviser to Volkswagen. Another adviser told Reuters VW doesn’t want to “test the limits.”
(VW gets go-ahead to repair 60,000 late-model diesels. Click Here for the story.)
Those charged or worried about being charged may wait for another test: seeing how the new Trump Administration will follow up on the Volkswagen affair. The president-elect has said he wants to reduce government regulation and create a more business-friendly environment. It remains to be seen if that might also mean backing off from Obama Administration legal efforts like the Volkswagen case, as well as the new allegations raised this week by the Environmental Protection Agency which accused Fiat Chrysler of also cheating on emissions tests.