Prosecutors raided carmaker Audi again earlier this week, not just because of its role in Dieselgate, but instead on the hunt for documents regarding the possible shipment of thousands of Audi vehicles to Asia with the same vehicle identification number, or VIN.
The 17-digit VIN stamped into each vehicle’s chassis is supposed to be unique for that car, allowing owners to track the car’s history, theft and registrations, among other things. But as investigators searched Audi corporate files for documents related to the Dieselgate scandal last year, they also found documents suggesting that thousands of Audis exported to China, Korea or Japan may have the same vehicle identification number.
When Handelsblatt first reported on the duplicate numbers last year, the company said they didn’t know anything about duplicate VINs. This week’s raid by authorities apparently also targeted the “mole” who had tipped off Handelsblatt. A spokesperson for the state prosecutor’s office in Munich did not deny the new probe, but also said she could not comment further.
One of the most pressing questions asked by auto industry insiders after the news came out, was why a car company would do this? There does not appear to be any sensible reason as to why a major auto maker would stamp identical VINs on its products. German and EU laws stipulate that every vehicle have a unique VIN that will remain uncopied for at least 30 years.
Just days before the raid, an Audi spokesman explained that the carmaker’s audit department had investigated the duplicate VINs.
The latest fracas comes on top of the VW subsidiary Audi’s problems with the Dieselgate investigations as well as the outrage over emissions experiments on monkeys.
Just days before this week’s raid, an Audi spokesman explained that the carmaker’s audit department had investigated the matter after the initial Handelsblatt article last summer. Apparently all they found was information about a Chinese gang selling cars, including Audis, under existing VINs. That gang has since been busted.
Audi said it might make parts of the report available. But now word is that during the most recent raid, Bavarian authorities carried away not only company computers, but also the report itself.
At one stage, a politician asked the Bavarian justice ministry about the raid. The ministry responded that several folders of information had been found and that these contained some information about registrations in South Korea. There was no mention of the special report by Audi’s auditors or of China or any other country.
The justice ministry has since referred further questions to the prosecutor’s office. And that office’s response only adds to the confusion: “The irregularities in question have only become known with regard to South Korea.” The runaround continues.
Jan Keuchel is an investigative reporter for Handelsblatt. Darrell Delamaide is an editor for Handelsblatt Global in Washington, DC. To contact the authors: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.