South Korean prosecutors said Monday they had summoned an executive of Audi Volkswagen Korea for questioning on charges against the automaker that include selling cars that had not received required certification and fabricating test results on fuel efficiency.
The executive in charge of certification of the Korean arm is reportedly to be summoned at least three to four times for testimony. During the investigation, he may become a suspect, industry watchers said.
This is the first probe into the management of the German automaker, which is suspected of various legal breaches in Korea.
Audi Volkswagen Korea CEO Johannes Thammer (first from right) and Volkswagen Korea managing director Thomas Kuehl (second from right) vow at the National Assembly in October 2015. (Yonhap)
Earlier this month, the prosecutor confiscated 956 vehicles including Audi A1, Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf and suspected that 606 cars out of them either failed to obtain certification from the Ministry of Environment or exceeded the limits of harmful gas emissions.
On June 8, the Seoul prosecutors’ office found that the automaker fabricated 48 test results on fuel economy -- among 26 car models including Golf 2.0TDI -- submitted to the Korea Energy Agency from 2012 to 2014.
The company was also recently suspected of not obtaining the certification for 50,000 units including Tiguan and Audi A7 after changing parts related to atmospheric gases. All the charges are subject to the violation of Clean Air Conservation Act.
“We will faithfully work with the investigation and cooperate with the government to address the issues as soon as possible,” Lee Soo-jin, a spokesperson of Audi Volkswagen Korea told The Korea Herald.
The German automaker has come under fire in Korea for not appropriately responding to its consumers after several scandals broke out.
The company has submitted recall plans to the government three times but they have been rejected each time as the government said the plans were made carelessly. VW gave insufficient detail on the causes of the emissions scandal, giving an explanation in just two sentences, it said.
Industry experts are calling for stronger penalties such as punitive compensation and class action suits like in the U.S., saying the automaker’s lax attitude is taking the blame for Korea’s lenient penalties.
“Because the penalties here are too light and the government is leaving the certification process to the private sector, companies tend to mistreat the process. The penalties need to be harsher from now,” said Choi Woong-chul, a professor of Kookmin University’s college of automotive engineering.
Regarding the Volkswagen emissions scandal, the automaker was subject to face a fine of up to $18 billion -- if found guilty -- in the U.S. while it was only $852,000 in Korea.
By Shin Ji-hye (email@example.com