* First searches at Audi since emissions scandal broke in
* Audi says will fully cooperate with authorities
* Searches coincide with release of Audi earnings
(Adds prosecutor's comment, CEO comment, background)
By Andreas Cremer
INGOLSTADT, Germany, March 15 German prosecutors
searched Audi's two biggest plants and other sites on Wednesday
in connection with the emissions scandal still rocking parent
Volkswagen, adding to pressure on the luxury
division and its Chief Executive Rupert Stadler.
Volkswagen admitted in September 2015 that up to 11 million
of its vehicles worldwide had software installed that cheats
emissions tests, unleashing its biggest ever crisis.
The raids, the first at Audi since VW's diesel scandal broke
18 months ago, centred on who was involved in the use of any
illicit software used in 80,000 VW, Audi and Porsche cars with
bigger 3.0 litre engines that were found to exceed U.S.
Volkswagen has already agreed to pay more than $1 billion to
fix or buy back the 80,000 cars as part of an overall U.S.
settlement expected to cost the group as much as $17.5 billion.
"With these search orders we aim to clarify in particular
who was involved in deploying the technology concerned and in
the provision of false information to third parties," the Munich
prosecutor's office said in a statement on Wednesday, without
naming any suspects.
It said the raids involved prosecutors from several
jurisdictions and state police from Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg
and Lower Saxony.
The police swoop coincided with a major annual press
conference at which Stadler was presenting Audi's 2016 earnings
- compounding the group's embarrassment.
"I have all along supported efforts to clear up the diesel
issue at Audi," he told reporters, while conceding that efforts
to recover from the scandal were "far from over".
A statement from the prosecutor on Wednesday's raids cited
suspicion that the cars, sold in the United States between 2009
and 2015, were also fitted with devices to cheat tests.
VW's Wolfsburg headquarters were searched, along with Audi's
Ingolstadt and Neckarsulm factories and six other unspecified
sites, the group said. The two Audi plants employ a combined
Some 70 law enforcement officials also searched offices and
private apartments as part of the Ingolstadt operation, a person
familiar with the matter told Reuters, adding that Stadler's
home was not among those raided.
Stadler, who has run Audi since 2007, has been criticised
for his handling of the emissions scandal but said on Wednesday
he continues to command the VW board's full support, reiterated
publicly last month.
Ingolstadt-based Audi said it had every interest in getting
to the bottom of the emissions-cheating scandal and was fully
cooperating with the searches.
"We will keep at it until this work is done," CEO Stadler
Cars sold in European markets are outside the scope of the
investigation, the Munich prosecutor said.
Audi last year increased its diesel scandal-related
provisions to 1.63 billion euros and said on Wednesday it did
not expect to have to do so again. The carmaker also recorded
costs of 162 million euro for the recall of cars fitted with
Takata Corp airbags.
The group reported a 37 percent drop in operating profit to
3.1 billion euros for 2016, reducing its return on sales to 5.1
percent from 8.3 percent a year earlier.
(Additional reporting by Jens Hack in Munich; Writing by Maria
Sheahan; Editing by David Evans and Laurence Frost)