VW Criminal Charges on Deck

The civil lawsuit brought by the Justice Department against Volkswagen for violating the Clean Air Act was only the opening round.

Criminal charges are on deck.

David Uhlmann

David Uhlmann

The New York Times reported yesterday that “the civil complaint, which does not involve criminal charges or auto executives facing charges, is something of a blow to the Obama administration’s highly promoted new strategy for getting tough on corporate crime” and that “despite a pledge by the Justice Department in September to go after executives responsible for corporate wrongdoing, federal prosecutors stopped short of criminal charges and did not single out individuals.”

But Justice Department spokesperson Wyn Hornbuckle told Corporate Crime Reporter that “we have active and ongoing investigation.”

“The filing of a complaint is an important step but not the last step toward holding Volkswagen accountable for the alleged violations,” Hornbuckle said. “The complaint is being filed now so that the United States can actively participate in the just underway multi-district litigation. A civil complaint does not preclude the government from seeking other legal remedies, including criminal charges. The United States’ investigation is continuing and will follow the facts and evidence wherever they lead.”

And University of Michigan Law Professor David Uhlmann, the former head of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Unit, said that “criminal charges will follow.”

“The Justice Department’s civil suit is merely its opening salvo in the VW emissions debacle,” Uhlmann said.  “Criminal charges will follow — possibly before the end of the year and no later than 2017 — and when the litigation is over VW will have paid billions in criminal and civil penalties.”

“The civil suit filed today comes right out of the Gulf oil spill playbook. The Justice Department has again led with its civil complaint and intends to pursue those claims alongside the private party tort actions consolidated in San Francisco as multi-district litigation. In the past, the Justice Department would have held its civil claims until criminal violations could be investigated completely, not wanting civil depositions to undermine criminal prosecution, but this is the new normal for high-profile cases.”

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