Four managers at Volkswagen AG’s luxury Audi unit have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Detroit on Thursday as part of the U.S. government’s investigation into the German automaker’s diesel emissions cheating scandal, according to court documents.
VW admitted in September 2015 to secretly installing software in nearly 500,000 U.S. vehicles to cheat government exhaust emissions tests and pleaded guilty in 2017 to felony charges. In total, 13 people have been charged in the United States, including the four Audi managers.
Managers Richard Bauder, Axel Eiser, Stefan Knirsch and Carsten Nagel all worked in Audi’s engine development division in Germany. Bauder was head of Audi’s Diesel Engine Development department. A Justice Department spokesman said none are in custody. All are believed to be in Germany.
Lawyers for the four could not immediately be identified.
The government previously indicted one former Audi manager in July 2017, Giovanni Pamio. The new indictment is a significant expansion of the government’s criminal probe.
The four managers are charged in a 12-count indictment with conspiring to evade U.S. emissions standards in diesel vehicles sold in the United States with 3.0-liter engines. The vehicles include the 2009-2015 Audi Q7 vehicles as well as other Q5, A6, A7 and A8 diesel models and VW Touareg vehicles. They are accused of wire fraud, violating the Clean Air Act and conspiracy.
Audi, Volkswagen’s biggest profit contributor, has trailed behind rivals Mercedes-Benz and BMW AG in recent years. It’s been overhauling its lineup to narrow the gap in sales volumes and margins.
The fresh charges show that U.S. prosecutors continue to pursue their criminal case against the German carmaker more than three years after the U.S. environmental regulators first accused Volkswagen of rigging hundreds of thousands of diesel-powered cars with illegal software to cheat on emissions tests.
Volkswagen spokesman Pietro Zollino said the company continues “to cooperate with investigations by the Department of Justice into the conduct of individuals. It would not be appropriate to comment on individual cases.”
The indictment said the Audi managers realized they could not meet U.S. pollution standards given design constraints by Audi “including the need for a large trunk and high-end sound system.”
None of the men charged Thursday are in custody and no court appearances are scheduled according to federal prosecutors in Detroit.
“We continue to cooperate with investigations by the Department of Justice into the conduct of individuals. It would not be appropriate to comment on individual cases,” Volkswagen spokesman Pietro Zollino said in an email.
The U.S. has already indicted eight individuals for their role in Volkswagen’s emissions-cheating scheme, including former Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn. Most have remained in Germany, which won’t extradite its citizens.
A German probe over the diesel-emission cheating resulted in the arrest of Audi’s former Chief Executive Officer Rupert Stadler last year. Stadler was held in jail for four months before being released in October by judges who said there’s still strong evidence against him in the case.
In total, Volkswagen has agreed to pay more than $25 billion in the United States for claims from owners, environmental regulators, states and dealers, and has offered to buy back about 500,000 polluting U.S. vehicles. The buybacks will continue through 2019.
In 2017, VW also pleaded guilty to fraud, obstruction of justice and falsifying statements in a U.S. court. Under the plea deal, the automaker agreed to sweeping reforms, new audits and oversight by an independent monitor for three years.
Former Audi Chief Executive Rupert Stadler was not among those indicted. He is being investigated in Germany for his alleged role.
VW in October terminated Stadler’s contract against the backdrop of a criminal investigation into whether he was involved in emissions cheating.
Stadler was the highest-profile executive detained since the diesel-cheating scandal engulfed Volkswagen more than three years ago. Throughout the crisis, as sanctions topped 27 billion euros ($31 billion), Volkswagen rejected claims that senior managers such as Stadler were aware of the criminal scheme.
Pamio was charged in a U.S. criminal complaint filed in July 2017 with conspiracy to defraud the U.S., wire fraud and violations of the U.S. Clean Air Act. Federal prosecutors said he was “legally responsible” for cheating software on 63,966 model year 2009-2016 vehicles sold in the U.S. for the model years 2009 to 2016.
The models involved in the latest indictment include the 2009-15 Volkswagen Touareg sport utility vehicle, 2009-15 Audi Q7, 2014-15 Audi A6 Quattro and A7 Quattro.
The case is U.S. v. Bauder, 19-cr-20033, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan (Detroit).