Volkswagen’s screwed: Committing a 20th century crime in the 21st century

Volkswagen is likely to be successfully prosecuted by a number of countries for its environmental crimes; that makes it a notable exception among 21st century corporate criminals. Here’s why.


Common wisdom holds that corporations are generally immune to effective prosecution for their crimes. Volkswagen may be the exception.

The scope of the Volkswagen emissions scandal is enormous: The company cheated on the emissions tests of over 11 million cars in Europe, using software designed to conceal the fact that they released more than the maximum permitted levels of diesel fuel emissions into the air. It outfitted another half million vehicles with the software in the United States, and reports say that Volkswagen’s 2016 models may also be equipped with law-breaking software.

Second Nexus
Credit: Source.

A world battered by corporate scandals and bank failures usually knows what comes next. Companies caught red-handed blame a small number of mid-level employees for being “bad actors,” denies all knowledge of what was happening, refuses to fire any senior executives, and pays just token fines to various governments with no real fear of prosecution. From Goldman Sachs to Bank of America to British Petroleum, top level executives and company policy both have largely emerged unscathed.

Sure enough, Volkswagen is trying to follow the script verbatim, blaming a small group of “rogue coders.” The company is adamant that “[n]o supervisory meeting authorized this,” according at least to Volkswagen’s head of U.S. Business speakling to Congress early this month. “This was something individuals did.”

But while Volkswagen went through the motions of a familiar script, the world was unconvinced, and no part of this corporate scandal is going away quietly. Several top Volkswagen executives have resigned, including CEO Martin Winterkorn, who denied that he had committed any wrongdoing but admitted he was “stunned that misconduct on such a scale was

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