Three U.S. states filed civil lawsuits against Volkswagen on Tuesday, accusing the German automaker of violating environmental laws. In separate but virtually identical suits, New York, Maryland, and Massachusetts leveled claims of fraud that extended to the very top of the company’s boardroom.
The accusations fly in the face of statements VW made last year. According to Martin Winterkorn, the former chairman of the board of directors, equipping 11 million vehicles with software to cheat emissions tests were grave errors made by just a handful of employees. He added that top executives were oblivious to the deception.
But the three attorney generals driving the lawsuits claim that many executives were aware of the orchestrated fraud. In one specific instance, the complaint suggests that chief executive officer Matthias Müller knew the company decided not to equip Audi vehicles with equipment required to meet clean-air standards in the U.S. as far back as 2006.
The complaint says the systematic scheme to cheat emissions tests was a cost-saving measure. Through the use of six different devices, the world’s second largest automaker was able to avoid overhauling vehicles sold in the U.S.
The scandal, known as “Dieselgate”, has already cost VW billions of dollars. Last month, the automaker settled claims with U.S. owners and regulators by agreeing to pay $14.7 billion. However, that resolution does not prevent individual states from seeking penalties.
The company is already holding discussions to design a settlement that would resolve its environmental issues across the U.S.