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Will Volkswagen Executives Be the Yates Memo's First Casualties?

January 4, 2016

By: Aaron S. Mapes

Volkswagen has admitted that up to 11 million diesel vehicles around the world have engines fitted with defeat devices that allowed them to pass emissions tests despite spewing more pollution than permitted. The revelations were announced Sept. 18 by the Environmental Protection Agency and have prompted investigations by the EPA and the Department of Justice. Just nine days before the scandal came to light, the DOJ unveiled a new policy that holds executives accountable for the misconduct of their organizations, prompted by the lack of prosecutions after the financial collapse of Wall Street. The new policy was announced in a memorandum known as the Yates Memo.

Whether the DOJ will pursue criminal charges against Volkswagen or its leaders for these so-called defeat devices remains to be seen, but the government’s commitment to the principles of the new policy could be put to the test. Michael C. Gross, Carolyn H. Kendall and Aaron S. Mapes examine the Yates Memo, the emissions scandal, federal investigations and the higher standards the new policy sets for the prosecution of corporate crime.

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