Volkswagen has refused to provide emails or other communications among its executives to attorneys general in the United States, impeding U.S. investigations into the company’s emissions-cheating scandal, citing German privacy laws. Volkswagen adds to their tumultuous relationship with American investigators, who this week inquired against the company in a civil suit through the U.S. Justice Department. Claims in the suit include that Volkswagen “impeded and obstructed” regulators’ inquiries and provided “misleading information” regarding the nearly 600,000 diesel engine systems affected by the illegal emission controls in the United States.
Significantly, investigators say, Volkswagen’s actions limit their ability to identify which employees knew about or sanctioned the deceptions. Penalties would be greater if the states and others pursuing Volkswagen in court could prove that top executives were aware of or directed the activity. A 48-state civil investigation is being led by a half-dozen states while attorneys general in Texas and California are conducting their own inquiries of the company.
Matthias Mueller, VW’s new CEO, last year promised “maximum transparency” about the scandal. Germany, even as a close ally of America, is known for their strict privacy laws like its Federal Data Protection Act, which limits access to data. Strains over data-sharing between the countries emerged after the spying revelations linked to Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor. Germany also has a history of refusing to extradite its citizens to the United States, but U.S. investigators have dealt with German corporations for years and often reach settlements. The U.S., where the scandal originated, is seen as potentially conducting tougher inquiries than Germany, where the automaker is one of the nation’s largest employers. The Department of Justice has not ruled out filing a criminal charge or targeting specific executives.
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