German investigators, it seems, are finally getting serious about the diesel emissions scandal. The state prosecutor’s office in Stuttgart has launched a formal investigation against several Daimler employees, a week after investigators raided the offices of Volkswagen subsidiary Audi.
After a preliminary investigation, the state prosecutor in Stuttgart found sufficient evidence to justify an initial suspicion that several Daimler employees engaged in fraud and false advertising related to diesel engines. A number of the suspects are known to authorities by name.
“The state prosecutor’s office in Stuttgart launched a formal investigation against Daimler employees on Tuesday,” a spokesman said.
The investigation comes at a bad time for Daimler. The automaker is trying to launch an e-car offensive and present itself as an environmentally friendly company.
It’s not the first time that authorities have scrutinized Daimler over its diesel engines.
Daimler confirmed the investigation, but rejected allegations of any wrongdoing. Neither the Federal Motor Transport Authority nor the Transportation Ministry have found any violations of the law, said a Daimler spokesperson. The automaker is in contact with the state prosecutor in Stuttgart as well as other authorities and is cooperating fully, the spokesperson added.
The Federal Motor Transport Authority did, however, pressure Daimler to launch a “voluntary service action” last year in which cars received software updates.
It’s not the first time that authorities have scrutinized Daimler over its diesel engines. In April last year, the U.S. Justice Department ordered Daimler to review its diesel engines after suspicions emerged that emissions values may have been manipulated.
The Justice Department’s order came after a class-action lawsuit was filed against Daimler for allegedly manipulating diesel emissions values. The U.S. owner of a Mercedes said the car’s BlueTec engine emitted nitrogen oxide 65 times above the legal limit when temperatures dropped to -10 Celsius.
Daimler vowed to fight the charge with all legal means at its disposal. In December, a federal judge in New Jersey threw out the lawsuit, ruling that the plaintiffs had no standing. The plaintiffs have been given time to revise their case.
The maker of Mercedes Benz has commissioned the consulting firm Deloitte to launch an internal investigation into alleged violations at the automaker’s headquarters and its R&D department. The U.S. law firm Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom has also been commissioned to investigate.
In September 2015, Volkswagen admitted to installing cheat software to manipulate nitrogen-oxide emissions values in 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide. Since then, other automakers have been under heightened scrutiny, including Daimler, Fiat Chrysler, Opel and Renault.
Stefan Menzel writes about the auto industry focusing on Volkswagen. Volker Votsmeier is an editor with Handelsblatt’s investigative reporting team. To contact the author: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org