FRANKFURT German prosecutors are investigating whether Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) employees deleted data that could be harmful to the company for a week before the carmaker admitted to U.S. authorities that it had cheated diesel-emissions tests, a group of German media outlets reported on Wednesday.
Broadcasters NDR and WDR and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, which are reporting jointly on the case, said prosecutors in Braunschweig, near Volkswagen's headquarters, said they were investigating the issue.
The prosecutor's office was not immediately reachable by Reuters late on Wednesday, and Volkswagen declined to comment on an ongoing investigation.
Volkswagen admitted on Sept. 18 it had cheated the Californian environmental tests, knocking a fifth off its market value, causing its chief executive to resign and potentially costing it billions in court cases, fines and technical fixes.
Soon afterwards, it ordered law firm Jones Day to carry out an independent internal inquiry over the matter.
Some investors are suing Volkswagen for not having informed the market in a timely manner of its huge impending problem.
The German media group said the concealment of data went on for about a week before Volkswagen's legal department sent out a "litigation hold" order requiring relevant information to be preserved in anticipation of potential legal action against the company.
Some of the data removed from machines was transferred onto data sticks, the media group said, some of which had in the meantime been handed back in.
"So far, prosecutors are not assuming that a large amount of data has been lost, enough substantially to hinder or delay the diesel investigations. But this cannot be ascertained with certainty at the moment," the media group cited a spokesman for the Braunschweig prosecutor's office as saying.
The same media group reported in March that an ex-employee of Volkswagen's U.S. unit was suing VW for damages, claiming he had been unlawfully fired for flagging internally what he alleged was illegal deletion of data.
Volkswagen has set aside 16.2 billion euros to cover vehicle refits and a settlement with U.S. authorities, but still faces potential U.S. Justice Department fines and questions over who was responsible for the cheating, with investigations ongoing.
(Reporting by Jan Schwartz; Writing by Georgina Prodhan, editing by David Evans)
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