VW sued by US Justice Department

Volkswagen could face fines of up to £60bn after the US Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit against it for violating clean air laws.

It alleges that Volkswagen installed ‘defeat devices’ in almost 600,000 diesel vehicles in the US to cheat emission tests.

The Justice Department filed the lawsuit yesterday (Monday) on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, which accuses Volkswagen of four counts of violating the US Clean Air Act. In theory, Volkswagen could be handed fines of about £25,000 per vehicle found to have violated the law.

Assistant attorney general John Cruden, head of the department’s environment and natural resources division, said, ‘Car manufacturers that fail to properly certify their cars and that defeat emission control systems breach the public trust, endanger public health, and disadvantage competitors.

‘The United States will pursue all appropriate remedies against Volkswagen to redress the violations of our nation’s clean air laws.’

The Justice Department has also been investigating criminal fraud allegations against Volkswagen for misleading US consumers and regulators. But to win the civil case it doesn’t need to prove intention, only that the cheating occurred.

Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the EPA’s office of enforcement and compliance assurance, said, ‘We take an important step to protect public health by seeking to hold Volkswagen accountable for any unlawful air pollution, setting us on a path to resolution.

‘So far, recall discussions with the company have not produced an acceptable way forward. These discussions will continue in parallel with the federal court action.

‘We’re alleging that they knew what they were doing, they intentionally violated the law and that the consequences were significant to health.’

Volkswagen admitted installing cheat devices is several of its 2.0 litre diesel vehicle models, but the lawsuit claims many 3.0 litre models were also fitted with similar software.

The US government claims that even after admitting using defeat devices in certain models, Volkswagen ‘failed to come forward and reveal’ that other vehicles also contained the software.

In a statement, Volkswagen said, ‘We will continue to cooperate with all government agencies investigating these matters.’