VW ordered to pay €1 billion fine for Dieselgate in Germany

Public prosecutors have ordered the auto giant to pay for falsifying their vehicles' emissions test results. VW has said it "accepts responsibility" and will pay the fine without contesting it.

Volkswagen was handed a fine of €1 billion ($1.18 billion) on Wednesday by district prosecutors in the central German city of Braunschweig, close to VW's headquarters in Wolfsburg.

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"Volkswagen accepts this fine and acknowledges its responsibility," for the Dieselgate emissions scandal, the company said in a press release.

The penalty is for "between the years of 2007 and 2015, allowing some 10.7 million vehicles on the road with unreliable emissions software... in the US, Canada and worldwide."

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The company expressed optimism that paying the fine would partly set right its wrongdoing, and serve as a deterrent for any similar behavior in the future.

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News of the emissions scandal broke in September 2015 when US researchers discovered that millions of Volkswagen diesel cars had been installed with faulty software that made the vehicles appear to pass emissions standards, though their pollution levels were actually higher than regulations allowed.

The scandal helped prompt mass recalls, significant damage to VW's reputation and the resignations of several of the firms' top employees.

It has since transpired that several other car manufacturers had employed similar software to dupe tests on their diesels, especially in order to pass particularly stringent US standards for nitrogen oxide emissions.

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Volkswagen is also facing fines or investigations from 19 other countries including the US, Canada, India, Brazil, China and Australia.

The move by the Braunschweig prosecutors to file a claim of an administrative offense is one of the few ways that VW can be made to pay for the scandal inside Germany, as it mostly affected cars being sold abroad. There are however still several lawsuits from German consumers pending against the company.

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The disaster unfolds

About two weeks after Volkswagen admitted behind closed doors to US environmental regulators that it had installed cheating software in some 11 million of its diesel vehicles worldwide, the Environmental Protection Agency shared that information with the public. It was September 18, 2015. The ensuing crisis would eventually take a few unexpected turns.

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The boss must go, long live the boss

Volkswagen's then-CEO Martin Winterkorn (above) had little choice but to step down several days after news of the scandal broke. In September, he tendered his resignation, but retained his other posts within the Volkswagen Group. Winterkorn's successor was Matthias Müller. Until taking the reins at VW, Müller had been the chairman at Porsche, a VW subsidiary.

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Raiding headquarters

Regulators in the US weren't the only ones investigating VW. Authorities in Lower Saxony, the German state in which VW is based, were also scrutinizing the company. On October 8, state prosecutors raided VW's headquarters along with several other corporate locations.

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Hell breaks loose

On January 4, 2016, the US government filed a lawsuit against VW in Detroit, accusing the German automaker of fraud and violations of American climate protection regulations. The lawsuit sought up to $46 billion for violations of the Clean Air Act.

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Quit or forced out?

In March, the head of VW in the US, Michael Horn, resigned. In the initial days and weeks after the scandal broke, he was the one US authorities turned to for information. He issued an official apology on behalf of the automaker, asking for the public's forgiveness.

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Settlement

On October 25, a US judge approved a final settlement that would have VW pay $15.3 billion. In addition, affected cars would be retrofitted with better, non-deceptive hardware and software, or else VW would buy them back completely from customers.

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Imitators

When dieselgate first emerged in 2015, analysts said it was likely other car makers were also cheating tests. But it wasn't until 2017 that other companies were targeted in probes. In July, German authorities launched investigations into luxury car makers Porsche and Daimler for allegedly cheating emissions tests. Others, such as Audi and Chrysler, have also been hit by similar allegations.

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Public still supportive

Despite dieselgate, VW has managed to keep the emissions scandal from utterly tarnishing its image. According to several polls, between 55 to 67 percent of Germans continue to trust the automaker. In the US, polls show that roughly 50 percent still believe the German company produces worthwhile vehicles.

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Fuming over monkeys

In late January, however, VW suffered another heavy blow over reports that the company experimented on monkeys and made the animals inhale diesel fumes. To make matters worse, a separate experiment that had humans inhale relatively harmless nitrogen dioxide was revealed at the same time. Some media wrongly interpreted this to mean humans were also inhaling toxic fumes.

es/msh (dpa, Reuters)

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