DETROIT | The Volkswagen executive who once was in charge of complying with U.S. emissions regulations was arrested during the weekend in Florida and accused of deceiving federal regulators about the use of special software that cheated on emissions tests.
Volkswagen said in a statement Monday that it is cooperating with the Justice Department in the probe. “It would not be appropriate to comment on any ongoing investigations or to discuss personnel matters,” the statement said.
Herbert Diess, a member of Volkswagen AG’s board of management, appeared in Detroit Sunday evening to introduce a new version of VW’s Tiguan SUV ahead of the North American International Auto Show. He wouldn’t comment when asked if some Volkswagen executives refused to come to the auto show for fear of being arrested.
“I’m here, at least,” he said.
Asked about the Justice Department investigation, Diess also wouldn’t comment, but said he hopes it’s resolved “as soon as possible.”
The company has agreed to either repair the cars or buy them back as part of a $15 billion settlement approved by a federal judge in October. Volkswagen agreed to pay owners of 2-liter diesels up to $10,000 depending on the age of their cars.
In October, VW engineer James Robert Liang, of Newbury Park, California, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the government and agreed to cooperate with investigations in the U.S. and Germany. Liang was the first person to enter a plea in the wide-ranging case, and authorities were expected to use him to go after higher-ranking VW officials.
A grand jury indictment against Liang detailed a 10-year conspiracy by Volkswagen employees in the U.S. and Germany to repeatedly dupe U.S. regulators by using sophisticated emissions software. The indictment detailed emails between Liang and co-workers that initially admitted to cheating in an almost cavalier manner but then turned desperate after the deception was uncovered.
The complaint against Schmidt also references two cooperating witnesses in the company’s engine development, who have agreed to speak with investigators in exchange for not being prosecuted.
The EPA found that the 2-liter cars emitted up to 40 times the legal limit for nitrogen oxide, which can cause human respiratory problems.
Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit contributed to this report.