As Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn stepped down Wednesday over the company's large-scale diesel emissions-fixing scheme, consumer advocates charged that the resignation does not recuse the corporation itself from paying for the harm it has done.
"VW must still pay full penalties under law and grant full rebates to the customers it deceived into buying pollution-spewing cars that led to massive, undeserved profits," declared Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director of U.S. PIRG, in a statement issued Wednesday.
In announcing his resignation, Winterkorn acknowledged the scandal, which is now known to have affected 11 million cars worldwide, but declared "I am not aware of any wrong doing on my part." According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the company built a software "defeat device" that allowed cars to cheat on emissions control tests and spew up to 40 times the level of pollutants legally permitted.
"Not only did the company deliberately deceive consumers, but Volkswagen consciously poisoned the air with gases that cause respiratory illness and exacerbate climate change," said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, in a press statement Tuesday.
Now it is time for the corporation to pay for its crimes, say consumer advocates, and they are launching a campaign to make this happen.
"When they were caught, they denied it as long as they could but now VW admits it broke the law when it engaged in a scheme to trick pollution controls and ripped off hundreds of thousands of consumers who thought they were buying clean vehicles," argued Mierzwinski. "Our Make VW Pay Campaign will hold VW fully accountable while preventing future corporate lawbreaking that cheats consumers or places health, safety, wallets or the environment at risk."
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"Volkswagen consciously poisoned the air with gases that cause respiratory illness and exacerbate climate change."
—Robert Weissman, Public Citizen U.S. PIRG says the company must buy back all of the flawed cars with full rebates. Going beyond that, the organization is calling on the EPA impose "tough penalties" of up to $37,500 per vehicle.
In addition, U.S. PIRG wants Congress to do away with a legal loophole that helps executives dodge prosecution for putting the public in danger. And they want the Department of Justice to "stop allowing tax write-offs for wrongdoing."
"We’ve fought against tax write-offs for JP Morgan, BP and other companies when they were forced to pay penalties for violations of our laws," said U.S. PIRG. "We'll keep fighting to end these write-offs for VW, GM and other companies."
The demands come amid warnings that the VW scandal, which has caused the company's stocks to tank, could extend far beyond this one corporation.
Just last week, the Department of Justice let General Motors settle for just $900 million for faulty ignition switches responsible for the deaths of more than 100 people. Critics lambasted the deal as permissive of corporate wrongdoing.