Two senators urge Justice to take hard line against VW

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Two U.S senators urged the Justice Department to take a hard line in its investigation of Volkswagen AG for evading emissions requirements in 482,000 vehicles here.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., urged Attorney General Loretta Lynch to take strong civil and criminal actions after VW admitted to using illegal software to secretly turn off emissions equipment when 2009-2015 diesel cars were in real-world use.

“Officials at Volkswagen should be granted no get-out-of-jail free card, and the department should accept no plea agreement with Volkswagen that does not ensure any and all information regarding criminal acts by high level officials is provided to the department,” wrote Klobuchar and Blumenthal. “The U.S. government needs to make it clear that these actions, whether involving safety defects, consumer deception, or regulatory violations, will not be tolerated by the American public.”

VW said the so-called “defeat devices” were installed on 11 million vehicles worldwide; it has set aside $7.3 billion to pay damages. Last week the company’s long-time CEO resigned. German prosecutors and at least 29 U.S. state attorney generals are investigating, as is the U.S. Justice Department aided by the FBI in Detroit. The EPA's main testing lab is in Ann Arbor.

The vehicles emit levels of nitrogen oxides as high as 40 times that of allowable U.S. emissions standards. The EPA has refused to certify 2016 VW diesel cars for sale.

The Justice Department earlier this month allowed General Motors to avoid being forced to plead guilty to two felony charges in ending its 18-month investigation into 2.6 million vehicles recalled for ignition defects and linked to at least 124 deaths. Instead GM entered into a plea agreement and will face three years of oversight by a federal monitor. GM also agreed to pay $900 million fine.

Last year the Justice Department also allowed Toyota Motor Corp. to avoid a guilty plea to wire fraud in settling a four-year investigation into sudden acceleration recalls. Toyota paid a $1.2 billion fine and also agreed to three years of oversight by a federal monitor after being charged with a felony.