The chief executive of Audi has been arrested, the most senior Volkswagen official to be taken into custody over the emissions cheating scandal.
Prosecutors in Munich said Rupert Stadler was being detained amid fears he might hinder its investigation into the scandal, plunging Volkswagen, which owns Audi, into a leadership crisis.
News of the arrest comes as the VW group chief executive, Herbert Diess, tries to introduce a new leadership structure, which includes Stadler, and accelerate the group’s shift towards electric vehicles.
“As part of an investigation into diesel affairs and Audi engines, the Munich prosecutor’s office executed an arrest warrant against Rupert Stadler on 18 June 2018,” the Munich prosecutor’s office said.
A judge in Germany ordered that Stadler be remanded in custody, it said, to prevent him from obstructing or hindering the diesel investigation.
Audi and VW confirmed the arrest and reiterated Stadler was presumed innocent.
A spokesman for Porsche SE, which controls VW and Audi, said the arrest would be discussed at a supervisory board meeting on Monday.
VW admitted in September 2015 to using illegal software to cheat US emissions tests on diesel engines, sparking the biggest crisis in the German carmaker’s history and triggering a regulatory crackdown in the auto industry.
The US filed criminal charges against the former VW chief executive Martin Winterkorn in May, but he is unlikely to face the American authorities because Germany does not extradite its nationals to countries outside the EU.
The Munich prosecutors said Stadler’s arrest was not made at the behest of US authorities. The executive was arrested at his home in Ingolstadt in the early hours on Monday, they said.
Last week, German authorities imposed one of the state’s highest ever fines on a company, hitting VW with a €1bn fine for its diesel emissions cheating.
The scandal has led to more scrutiny of emissions, and the results of new tests using beams of light have shown that almost all diesel car models since VW’s exposure have remained highly polluting. Analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation and FIA Foundation found new diesel models from 2016 were five over times above the EU limit for nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions.