U.S. launches criminal probe into Volkswagen’s rigged emission tests

The U.S. Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into Volkswagen's admission that it cheated on federal air pollution tests, Bloomberg reported on Monday, citing two U.S. officials familiar with the inquiry.

Details about the exact nature of the criminal investigation were not immediately known, but the news comes just days after both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARC) launched their own investigations into Volkswagen's alleged actions.

A U.S. Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on Bloomberg's report. "As a general matter we can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation," he said.

Shares of the world's largest automaker closed down 19 percent in Frankfurt on Monday, wiping out about €14.1 billion ($16 billion) in market value. Volkswagen's U.S.-listed stock was down 17 percent to $30 in late afternoon trading.

The EPA announced last week that four-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi diesel cars from model years 2009-2015 were found to include software that circumvents EPA emission standards for certain air pollutants. The agency said that a "sophisticated software algorithm" on certain Volkswagen vehicles detects when the car is undergoing official emissions testing and turns full emissions controls on only during the test.

As a result of the algorithm, cars meet emissions standards in the laboratory and testing station, but emit nitrogen oxides at up to 40 times the national standard during normal operation. The discovery leaves the German car maker vulnerable to fines that could exceed $18 billion. Nitrogen oxide is linked to asthma and lung illnesses.

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