April 22, 2019

Volkswagen to pay $4.3 billion as dieselgate settlement

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Auto Major Volkswagen. (File photo | Reuters)

WASHINGTON: Volkswagen AG has agreed to pay the largest ever U.S. criminal fine levied on an automaker to settle charges that it conspired for nearly 10 years to cheat on diesel emission tests, while prosecutors on Wednesday charged six current and former senior VW executives for their roles in the scheme.

The German automaker agreed on Wednesday to pay $4.3 billion in U.S. civil and criminal fines and pay California $153.8 million. In total, VW has now agreed to spend up to $22 billion in the United States to address claims from owners, environmental regulators, U.S. states and dealers.

Among those indicted was Heinz-Jakob Neusser, former head of development for VW Brand, who was suspended in 2015. He was also previously head of engine development. Two other former heads of engine development, Jens Hadler and Richard Dorenkamp, were also indicted.

“It is now clear that Volkswagen’s top executives knew about this illegal activity and deliberately kept regulators, shareholders and consumers in the dark – and they did this for years,” said Andrew McCabe, the FBI’s deputy director, at a press conference. “We can’t put companies in jail but we can hold their employees personally accountable. We can force companies to pay hefty fines.”

Five of the six current and former Volkswagen executives are in Germany and it is unclear if they will come to the United States to face charges since Germany typically does not extradite its citizens.

The indictment said the executives engaged in a 10-year conspiracy to cheat U.S. emissions tests and then cover up the excess emissions even as regulators questioned irregularities.

The Justice Department said that in 2006, VW realized it could not meet the tougher rules and VW engineers designed a system to detect when cars were being tested in the lab and then to emit up to 40 times legally allowable pollutants when driven. VW executives destroyed documents and other evidence in an attempt to avoid detection, the Justice Department said.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch declined to say if any higher level executives could face charges. “We will continue to pursue the individuals responsible for orchestrating this damaging conspiracy,” she said.

Volkswagen Chief Executive Officer Matthias Mueller said in a statement the company “deeply regrets the behaviour that gave rise to the diesel crisis” and vowed to continue changes in how the company operates.

One of the six charged, Oliver Schmidt, who was a manager in charge of VW’s environmental and engineering office in Michigan, was arrested in Florida on Saturday. He faces a hearing on Thursday in Miami to determine if he should remain jailed before trial.

A seventh VW employee pleaded guilty in September and agreed to cooperate.

VW will pay a $1.5-billion civil fine and $2.8-billion criminal fine. It will not be required to make any additional restitution payments.

According to the plea agreement made public on Wednesday, the company has fired six employees, suspended eight and disciplined three who participated in misconduct. The criminal agreement still must be approved by U.S. District Judge Sean Cox in Detroit, while the civil consent decree needs approval from a federal judge in California.

The VW plea agreement says the automaker could have been fined as much as $34.1 billion for its criminal conduct under federal guidelines.

A person briefed on the matter said the Justice Department initially sought significantly higher fines but during intensive talks reached a deal.

The deal surpasses the $1.2 billion fine Toyota Motor Corp paid in 2014 for concealing safety defects from U.S. regulators.


VW admitted in September 2015 to installing secret software in hundreds of thousands of U.S. diesel cars to cheat exhaust emissions tests and make them appear cleaner than they were on the road, and that as many as 11 million vehicles could have similar software installed worldwide.

Last year, VW agreed to spend nearly $3 billion to offset the excess emissions and $2 billion to boost zero emission vehicles.

Many senior managers departed following the scandal, including chief executive Martin Winterkorn, and VW has been barred from selling diesels in the United States since 2015.

The automaker will also face oversight by an independent monitor for three years and has agreed to make significant reforms.

VW still faces lawsuits from about 20 U.S. states, lawsuits from U.S. investors and will spend years buying back or fixing nearly 580,000 polluting vehicles.

The company’s board met for more than 10 hours Tuesday in Wolfsburg, Germany and two hours Wednesday before approving the deal. VW was in intensive talks with regulators in recent weeks to reach a deal before the end of the Obama administration. Without a deal by next week, a final resolution could have been delayed by months until the Trump EPA and Justice Department teams are in place.

Volkswagen, which may have topped Toyota in 2016 as the world’s largest automaker, is eager to move past the scandal and focus on introducing new vehicles for the U.S. market. It’s shares rose 3.4 percent on news of the settlement Wednesday to their highest level since the scandal became public in September 2015.

Taliban releases video showing foreigners kidnapped in Kabul alive

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Image for representation purposes only. (AP)

KABUL: An American and an Australian have appeared in a Taliban hostage video, five months after they were kidnapped from Kabul.

Gunmen wearing police uniforms abducted the two professors at the American University of Afghanistan in the heart of the Afghan capital on August 7, seizing them from their vehicle after smashing the passenger window.

The 13-minute, 35-second video circulated by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Wednesday offers the first apparent proof that they were still alive.

Australia said Thursday it “has been working closely with other governments to secure the release” of the hostage, but would not elaborate citing his family’s wishes and safety concerns.

The video comes after US Special Operations forces conducted a failed secret raid in August to rescue them.

President Barack Obama authorised the raid in an unspecified area of Afghanistan but the hostages were not there, the Pentagon said in September.

The elite American University of Afghanistan, which opened in 2006 and enrols more than 1,700 students, could not be reached for comment. It has attracted a number of visiting faculty members from Western countries.

The abductions highlighted the growing dangers faced by foreigners in Afghanistan.

The Afghan capital is infested with organised criminal gangs who stage kidnappings for ransom, often targeting foreigners and wealthy Afghans, and sometimes handing them over to insurgent groups. 

New SC Bench to hear SEBI-Sahara refund case

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For representational purpose

NEW DELHI: A new Supreme Court Bench on Thursday will hear the SEBI-Sahara refund case.

A three Bench constituting of former chief justice of India Thirath Singh Thakur, and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and A K Sikri was hearing the case. 

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Sahara Group and its chief Subrata Roy, had raised the issue since CJI Thakur had demitted office on January 3.

Sahara has, so far, returned a total of Rs 18,000 crores to its investors till now.

The bench, initially, had asked Roy to deposit Rs 1,000 crore with market regulator SEBI in two months or it will appoint a receiver, but later reduced the money to be deposited to Rs 600 crore till February 6, 2017.

Market regulator Sebi had earlier said that Sahara Group was liable to pay Rs 37,000 crore with interest, of which the principal amount payable was Rs 24,000 crore.

Sahara has already paid Rs 10,918 crore out of Rs 24,029 crore raised from investors, Sebi had said.

The Sahara chief was sent to jail on May 4, 2014, for his failure to comply with 2012 order directing him to return investor’s Rs. 17,600 crores with 15 percent interest that his two companies Sahara India Real Estate Corp Ltd and Sahara Housing Finance Corp Ltd had raised through optionally fully convertible debentures (OFCD) in 2007 and 2008.

Roy has been directly charged in the case pertaining to non-refund of nearly Rs 20,000 crores to the investor.

Trump cabinet to curb H-1B visa misuse in outsourcing US workforce 

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Image for representational purpose only. (File photo | Reuters)

WASHINGTON: US President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for the post of Attorney-General has assured lawmakers of taking steps towards pushing legislative measures to curb misuse of H-1B and L1 work visas significantly used by Indian IT professionals and allegedly replace American workers.

“It’s simply wrong to think that we’re in a totally open world and that any American with a job can be replaced if somebody in the world is willing to take a job for less pay,” Senator Jeff Sessions told members of Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing for the position of US Attorney-General.

“We have borders. We have a commitment to our citizens and you have been a champion of that. I’ve been honoured to work with you on it,” Sessions said in response to a question from Senator Charles Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In the past, both Sessions and Grassley have worked together to bring legislations on H-1B visas that badly hit Indian IT companies. The Office of Special Counsel for immigration related unfair employment practices is an office within the Justice Department which would be headed by Sessions if he is confirmed by the US Senate. The Office enforces the anti-discrimination provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

“While the office is designed to protect foreign nationals with employment visas from discrimination, it is also charged with ensuring that American workers are not discriminated against in the workplace. Many US workers advocate that the layoff of American workers and the replacement by cheaper, foreign, H-1B workers constitutes de facto nationality based discrimination against American workers,” Grassley said.

“The Obama administration has failed to protect American workers here. Will you, this is my question, will you be more aggressive in investigating the abuses of these visa programmes?” he asked. “I believe this has been an abuse. And I have been pleased to support your legislation and some others too, that others have produced that I believe could be helpful. It needs to be addressed,” Sessions said.

Describing Sessions as a vocal champion for American workers, Grassley said many American workers are being laid off and replaced by cheaper foreign labour imported through some of the US visa programmes.

Sessions, Grassley and Senator Dick Durbin in the past had co-sponsored a Bill that would reform H-1B visa programmes by ensuring that qualified American workers are considered for high-skilled job opportunities before those jobs can be offered to foreign nationals. “It also prohibit a company from hiring H-1B employees if they employ more than 50 people and more than 50 per cent of their employees are H-1B or L-1 visa holders,” he said.

Second Scorpene class submarine Khanderi to be launched today

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Khanderi is named after the Island fort of Maratha forces, which played a vital role in ensuring their supremacy at sea in the late 17th century. | AFP

MUMBAI: The second Scorpene class submarine, INS Khanderi, will be launched at the Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) here on Thursday. 

Union Minister of State (MoS) for Defence Subhash Bhamre will preside over the function to commence the launch of Khanderi.

Till December 2017, the submarine will undergo rigorous tests and trials. 

The state-of-the-art features of this Scorpene class submarine include superior stealth and the ability to launch a crippling attack on the enemy using precision guided weapons.

The attack can be launched with torpedoes, as well as tube-launched anti-ship missiles, whilst underwater or on the surface. The Stealth features will give it an invulnerability, unmatched by many submarines.

The submarine is designed to operate in all theatres, including the tropics. All means and communications are provided to ensure interoperability with other components of a Naval Task Force.

It can undertake multifarious types of missions typically undertaken by any modern submarine i.e. anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, intelligence gathering, mine laying, area surveillance etc.

Khanderi is named after the Island fort of Maratha forces, which played a vital role in ensuring their supremacy at sea in the late 17th century.

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