Volkswagen is challenging allegations made by the Justice Department over its diesel emissions scandal, questioning the American authorities’ jurisdiction and contending that the accusations against it do not justify penalties.
The Justice Department sued Volkswagen in January, saying that the company had installed illegal devices in nearly 600,000 vehicles sold in the United States that impaired emissions controls, increasing harmful air pollution. Volkswagen admitted in September that it had installed software to cheat on emissions tests in 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide.
But in a response to the Justice Department, filed Tuesday in San Francisco, the German automaker appeared to back away from its mea culpa, saying that the facts of the case remained unclear and that it was still conducting an internal investigation.
It also challenged the court’s jurisdiction over Volkswagen, and over its subsidiary Audi, saying that cars in the United States were sold through local businesses and not the parent companies. It said that the statute of limitations voided any conduct at Volkswagen before 2010.
Over all, the Justice Department “fails to allege facts sufficient” for any penalties, Volkswagen lawyers said. But the carmaker described the filing as part of the legal process, and said it “has no bearing on Volkswagen’s commitment to resolving the U.S. government’s claims.”
The German automaker’s stance contrasts with that taken by General Motors over its failure to disclose a deadly ignition-switch defect. The Justice Department levied a smaller-than-expected $900 million penalty a year and a half after the defect was revealed, citing the automaker’s cooperation, and held off from bringing criminal charges.
Prosecutors have also stopped short of criminal charges against Volkswagen, though the Justice Department has said that the civil suit did not preclude future action, including against specific executives. Prosecutors have said Volkswagen “impeded and obstructed” regulators’ inquiries and provided “misleading information.”
Justice Department officials declined to immediately comment on Volkswagen’s response.
On Tuesday, the federal district judge overseeing the case, Charles Breyer, said that the automaker had made “substantial progress” toward reaching a settlement next month with car owners and the government.
Judge Breyer also repeated that the settlement would include substantial compensation for owners of Volkswagen and Audi cars in the United States. Volkswagen has said it has set aside 7 billion euros, or about $8 billion, for legal costs worldwide, even though they could be higher.
Source: NY Times