American investigators, hot on the trail of Volkswagen Group executives and managers with dirty hands, haven’t had the easiest time bringing suspected emissions scandal conspirators to trial. Germany doesn’t extradite citizens facing charges in other countries, making justice a tricky pursuit for U.S. authorities.
So far, only two players in the diesel deception find themselves in the arms of U.S. law enforcementâ€” James Liang, a former executive who worked in California (and has pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges), and Oliver Schmidt, a former U.S. environmental liaison who previously worked out of VW’s Michigan emissions office. Federal agents nabbed him during a Miami layover as the German national returned home from a tropical vacation in January. Six others remain safely in Germany after a U.S. indictment.
Well, expect another trial now. Earlier this week, Munich police arrested an Italian national, Zaccheo Giovanni Pamio, the former head of thermodynamics at Audi’s engine development division. It’s the first diesel-related arrest in Germany and Pamio’s citizenship means he’s a candidate for extradition to the United States.
Now charged in connection to the scandal, American authorities hope Pamio squeals on his bosses at Audi. As for his involvement, the federal government alleges Pamio and others decided a premium sound system was a better use of vehicle space than a proper emission control system.
On Thursday, the U.S. District Court in Detroit levelled several charges: conspiracy to defraud the U.S., wire fraud, and violation of the Clean Air Act. At his request, U.S. lawyers claim, Pamio directed his engineers to devise a way to fool American regulators into thinking a new crop of diesel engines were in compliance with pollution laws.
While the team answered to Pamio, the engine manager answered to his own higher-ups. It’s believed Pamio’s arrest is part of a plan to have lower-level execs dish dirt on top brass.
“They want names, and they want top managers,” Annette Voges, a German lawyer for one of the indicted VW execs, told The New York Times. The case against Pamio seems to bear this out. In its documentation, the U.S. implies a superior at Audi pressured him to fool American regulators, and that Pamio once spoke out about it to a senior manager. A presentation created by Pamio in 2013, in which the executive shows how special software â€” a defeat device â€” could trick regulators, was allegedly shown to a member of Audi’s management board.
Pamio became involved in the emissions cheating, the U.S. claims, after engineers complained the AdBlue exhaust additive tank in 3.0-liter diesel vehicles would take away space needed for a premium sound system. In its place, engineers fitted a smaller AdBlue tank, with specialized software metering out the fluid in smaller-than-required doses. This lead to greater on-road emissions. However, the same software would also meter out the required amount of AdBlue if the vehicle suspected an emissions test was underway, thus keeping the deception a secret.
The intention was to make the fluid last until the vehicle’s regularly scheduled oil change, thus preventing would-be diesel buyers from being turned off by a finicky vehicle.