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Volkswagen doesn’t appear to be helping its case in the United States. Already the federal government is suing the German automaker over violations of the country’s strict clean-air standards, and now attorneys general from several states are accusing it of dragging its feet in helping their separate investigations.
Perhaps most outspoken is New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, one of 48 state attorneys general investigating VW. He said the company was citing on German privacy law, which allows corporate executives to deny investigators access to their emails and similar documents in their probe of emissions-cheating devices in 580,000 diesel-powered diesel vehicles sold in the United States.
In a statement on Friday, Schneiderman said VW “has failed to pursue every avenue to overcome the obstacles” his office had brought to the company’s attention. “Our patience with Volkswagen is wearing thin.” He said this “spotty” cooperation evidently is meant to delay proper responses until the company finishes its own “independent investigation’ several months from now.”
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Schneiderman isn’t alone in his criticism of VW. His counterpart in Connecticut, George Jepsen, complained, “I find it frustrating that, despite public statements professing cooperation and an expressed desire to resolve the various investigations that it faces following its calculated deception, Volkswagen is, in fact, resisting cooperation by citing German law.”
And a spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, Megan Hawthorne, added that “we share the frustrations" of both Jepsen and Schneiderman. “We will do what is necessary to move the investigation forward.”
Four months ago the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency discovered the use of VW’s cheating software, called a “defeat device,” and the company quickly acknowledged that it had used it, but has blamed the problem on a few employees acting independently. It has hired the consulting firm Deloitte Co. and a U.S. law firm, Jones Day, to conduct a private probe.
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At company headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, a VW spokesman said, “We are in permanent exchange with U.S. authorities and are cooperating closely with them. We are not commenting on ongoing investigations.”
In fact, German investigators appear satisfied with VW’s cooperation so far. Klaus Ziehe, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office in Braunschweig, the German city with jurisdiction over Wolfsburg, said in a statement that investigators there have had access to all the documents they’ve sought.
“We are not and do not want to be dependent on that which Volkswagen gives us,” Ziehe said. Nevertheless, he added, “We can’t complain about our cooperation with the company. We have the impression that we have received everything that we have specifically requested.”
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As the scandal drags on, VW has acknowledged that its annual sales had fallen in 2015 for the first time in more than 10 years despite a promise by Matthias Mueller, who was named the company’s CEO shortly after news of the cheating broke, of “maximum transparency” and that his “most urgent task is to win back trust.”
That may not be easy, especially in the United States. Besides the investigations in 48 states, on Jan. 4 the U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit against VW seeking at least $45 billion in damages.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com