In yet another troubling indication that the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal is worse than thought a German newspaper reported on Saturday that the company’s managers are worried that traveling to the United States could land them in jail.
According to company sources, the Suddeutsche Zeitung reported that U.S. investigators have confiscated the passport of an employee who traveled to the United States on business. Volkswagen believes the investigators are looking to prevent the manager from evading questioning or criminal prosecution as a result of the stunning revelation that the German automaker cheated emissions test on virtually all of its vehicles.
A spokesman for Volkswagen refused to confirm the reports only stating that: “Volkswagen employees are still traveling to the United States. Everything else is speculation.”
A U.S. investigation into the company could result in penalties of up to $18 billion for deliberately rigging emissions tests in an elaborate company-wide conspiracy.
Mary Nichols, chief of the California Air Resources Board, which is conducting an investigation into the affair, has sharply criticized the company’s handling of the scandal.
According to the German paper the scope of U.S. investigations mean that it is now unlikely that new VW Chief Executive Matthias Mueller will travel to the United States as he had planned to do near the end of November.
“We need legal security here before he can fly to the United States,” the paper quoted a company insider as saying.
The new revelations indicate that the U.S. is ramping up its investigation into the company and possibly pursuing a wide-ranging criminal indictment of key company executives and engineers involved in the scheme. It is widely believed that hundreds of people within the company were aware of the illegal emissions cheating device and that company pursued it as a concerted strategy in an effort to make its vehicles appear more environmentally friendly while keeping costs down.
Volkswagen refused to comment on the latest reports.