VW accused of illegally swapping parts on cars

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VW accused of illegally swapping parts on cars

Seoul prosecutors said Thursday that Volkswagen may have been selling vehicles equipped with unauthorized parts that play a decisive role in emissions levels, allegations that come amid the company’s ongoing emissions rigging scandal.

According to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office on Thursday, the local branch of the German automaker has sold some 50,000 vehicles to Korean customers in which certain critical auto parts were altered, including the exhaust gas recirculation valve, fuel injector and a converter.

Under the current Clean Air Conservation Act in Korea, if a car model undergoes changes that are more than merely cosmetic, it always needs to go through a reapproval process by the Ministry of Environment. If an unauthorized vehicle is allowed to drive on Korean roads, the automaker can be fined up to 10 billion won ($8.6 million) per model.

The Ministry of Environment increased the penalty from 1 billion won to 10 billion won last year after the Volkswagen emissions rigging scandal first broke.

The automaker has reportedly changed parts on 20 models without official authorization. These include Audi’s luxury A7 midsize sedan and Volkswagen’s Tiguan sports utility vehicle, both of which are widely popular in Korea. Volkswagen’s Passat and Phaeton also reportedly contain unauthorized parts.

Prosecutors are looking into whether the parts are related to the emissions rigging scandal, which has been in a deadlock for months.

Ever since the scandal surfaced last year with a discovery by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Volkswagen’s local branch has been at odds with the Ministry of Environment.

Earlier this week, the Korean government rejected Volkswagen’s recall plan for the third time, saying the automaker had yet to officially acknowledge its use of so-called defeat devices, which allowed its cars to cheat on emissions and fuel efficiency tests.

Volkswagen has been accused by Korean authorities of not taking its situation in the country seriously. While the automaker’s recall plans submitted in other countries include a full admission of its intention to cheat emissions tests, its Korean unit offered plans that included relatively few specifics.

In response, the government demanded Volkswagen completely rewrite its recall plan, rather than submit another revision as it had done before.

Volkswagen came under fire in 2013 for a similar reason, with the local unit not conforming to the Ministry of Environment’s general inspection standards. It was fined 10 billion won.

Prosecutors said Thursday that Volkswagen has been altering auto parts without notifying the government since then.

BY JIN EUN-SOO [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]
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