A former Volkswagen executive has been charged with conspiracy to defraud, linked to its cheating of exhaust emissions tests.
Oliver Schmidt, who headed the company’s regulatory compliance office in the US from 2014 to March 2015, was arrested on Saturday by federal investigators in Florida.
Schmidt did not enter a plea at an initial appearance in US District Court in Miami on Monday and was ordered held pending a hearing on Thursday.
Volkswagen declined to comment on the arrest.
“Volkswagen continues to cooperate with the Department of Justice as we work to resolve remaining matters in the United States. It would not be appropriate to comment on any ongoing investigations or to discuss personnel matters,” it said.
The news comes as Volkswagen was nearing a deal to resolve criminal and civil allegations over its diesel cheating, crucial steps toward moving past the scandal, which has cost it billions of euros and badly damaged its reputation.
An FBI complaint unsealed on Monday against Schmidt said he and other VW employees told executive management about the “existence, purpose and characteristics” of an emissions cheating device in July 2015, and that the executives chose not to immediately disclose it to US regulators.
The FBI complaint accused VW of deliberately misleading regulators about cheating pollution tests in the United States, but did not charge the company with a crime.
British legal action
At the same time a British law firm said it has launched legal action against Volkswagen, seeking thousands of pounds of compensation each for UK drivers affected by the scandal.
In Britain, Europe’s second-biggest autos market, 1.2 million cars are affected and Harcus Sinclair UK, which is being supported by Slater and Gordon, said around 10,000 drivers had already signed up to the legal action before Monday’s launch.
The firm will pursue a group action, the nearest British equivalent of a U.S. class action, at the High Court and is asking other drivers affected to come forward and join the case.
“We will argue that you received a vehicle that should never have been licensed for sale because it did not meet the required emissions standards,” the firm said on its website.
“We believe that the Court will assess the difference between what you paid for your vehicle and the inherent value of what you actually received.”
A spokesman for Volkswagen said the company would “robustly” defend itself in the case and reiterated it did not believe customers would lose out due to the scandal.
“We expect no decline in the residual values of the affected vehicles as a result of this issue,” he said.
Last year, a Spanish court ruled in favour of a buyer of a Volkswagen car with altered emissions software, ordering two of the German firm’s local units to pay a 5,000 euro (4,330 pound) fine to the car’s owner.
But the British authorities have been accused by some consumers and lawmakers of being too slow to act for not pursuing compensation or criminal proceedings.
In December, the European Union began legal action against Britain, Germany and five other member states for failing to police emissions test cheating by carmakers.
The first hearing in the group action case is due to take place on Jan. 30, a spokeswoman for Harcus Sinclair UK said.