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Civic group sues Volkswagen over emissions scandal

A Korean civic group has sued German carmaker Volkswagen over an emissions-rigging scandal, claiming that it affected public health rights, the organization said Thursday.

A total of 22 members of civic group Countermeasure Committee for Public Livelihood said they filed a lawsuit against Volkswagen Korea CEO Thomas Kuehl for allegedly taking massive financial advantage by violating rules, and causing environment problems, thereby affecting the public health.

This is the first time that a third party -- other than the automaker’s customers -- has launched a lawsuit against Volkswagen.

“Due to Volkswagen’s trickery, (we) have been defenselessly exposed to category-1-carcinogen-designated diesel emissions nearly every day from its vehicles, which has increased the probability of getting respiratory diseases,” the plaintiffs said in the statement.

“Although there may have not been any direct physical damage for now, (the company) must at least financially compensate for the psychological shock, anxiety and concerns about the potential health impact.”

Separately, 44 members of the group filed a suit against a local car distributor for polluting the environment, seeking compensation of 300,000 won ($260) each, the organization said.

Volkswagen drew global criticism in September after the carmaker admitted that it had cheated on its emissions standards compliance by installing software in some diesel-powered vehicles to pass the emission tests.

Volkswagen Korea apologized to Korean customers and vowed to recall the problematic cars.

Over 120,000 concerned vehicles have been sold in Korea, the German company said.

The Korean branch of the global carmaker has faced a class-action lawsuit from nearly 2,000 customers who seek to nullify the purchase contracts and get a refund, according to law firm Barun, which is leading the lawsuit.

The law firm has been filing a lawsuit every week upon requests from customers since late September. More are to join the collective legal battle, it added.

The Environment Ministry launched its own test last month over whether the diesel engine Volkswagen vehicles here meet the emissions standard compliance under two tests -- outdoor driving test and indoor driving test.

In an indoor driving test last month, the emissions of all the concerned vehicles recorded below the standard limit of 0.08 gram per kilometer, the ministry said.

The outdoor driving test currently underway will last for more than a month. The results will be released next week, it added.

Based on the result of the Environment Ministry’s test, the Transport Ministry will probe the association between the emissions and fuel efficiency, officials said.

If the emission rigging is confirmed here, the carmaker will likely face a penalty along with compensation lawsuits.

By Lee Hyun-jeong (rene@heraldcorp.com)

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