Justice Dept. Considering Criminal Charges Against Volkswagen

passatdieselgrabMany people who heard about last week’s recall of 500,000 Volkswagen diesel vehicles because the carmaker installed software that tricked emissions tests have asked, “Isn’t this a crime?” That’s a good question, and one the Dept. of Justice is reportedly looking into.

Both Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal are reporting that the DOJ is considering bringing criminal charges at VW.

According to the Journal, the DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division is conducting the probe, though there’s no word yet on exactly what the charges might be.

The day before the VW recall announcement, the DOJ reached a $900 million deal to settle a criminal investigation into General Motors over a long-ignored ignition switch defect that killed more than 100 people and resulted in hundreds more serious injuries.

And last year, the DOJ reached a $1.2 billion agreement with Toyota to defer prosecution over that car company’s sudden unintended acceleration issues.

In addition to any future criminal penalties, Volkswagen is facing the possibility of paying upwards of $18 billion in fines for using so-called “defeat device” software. These programs detect when an official emissions test is being performed and then turn on the car’s full emissions control system. Thus, the implication is that the cars are not living up to their “clean diesel” marketing when they are not being tested for emissions.

Owners of recalled VWs who feel that they were tricked into buying their vehicles by the company’s “clean diesel” branding can file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov/complaint or by calling 1-877-382-4357), which handles investigations into false and deceptive marketing.

Even the White House has the VW recall on its radar.

“It’s fair to say that we’re quite concerned by some of the reports that we’ve seen about the conduct of this particular company,” said White House rep Josh Earnest, according to Reuters, “but ultimately this is the responsibility of the EPA to take a look at it and that’s exactly what they’re doing.”

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