FRANKFURT -- Volkswagen's isolation increased as European governments condemned its rigging of emissions test results and prosecutors in the automaker's home state launched a preliminary investigation.
VW may face a criminal probe in Germany as local prosecutors look into the carmaker's scheme to dupe regulators and consumers about emissions of its diesel engines.
The investigators in the city of Braunschweig opened a "pre-investigation review" that was also prompted by complaints several citizens have filed over the issue, the prosecutors' office said in an e-mailed statement. A probe would target "responsible people at Volkswagen," the statement said.
"The office is looking at aggravated fraud as the possible crime," said a spokesman for the prosecutors in Braunschweig, the local authority for Wolfsburg-based VW.
Prosecutors in Ingolstadt, Germany, the home town of Volkswagen's Audi unit, are also monitoring developments, a spokesman said.
VW executives admitted that the company rigged software to disguise emissions performance during tests of diesel engines installed in 11 million vehicles worldwide, a scandal that has wiped out about one-third of the company's value and brought investigations around the world.
Germany's transport ministry said it would send a fact-finding committee to Wolfsburg to procure documents and interview company executives. The case involves "improper tampering with the vehicle, which is explicitly prohibited under European and German rules," Transportation Minister Alexander Dobrindt told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday.
The U.S. Justice Department has launched a criminal probe, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. New York and other state attorneys general are also forming a group to investigate, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said, while other countries in Europe and Asia say they will investigate Volkswagens and other vehicles as well.
The Canadian government is pledging unspecified “enforcement action” if VW cars sold in the country used pollution-masking technology.
In France, Energy Minister Segolene Royal said the government had launched a probe to establish whether VW had also used software that deceived U.S. regulators in some of its diesel cars sold in France. She described the matter a "particularly irresponsible fraud."
"We will be extremely thorough, extremely severe," she told reporters Wednesday. "The victims are workers whose situation has been made more precarious, consumers who were duped and also the state which pays subsidies for purchases of clean vehicles," Royal said.
She said she would hold a meeting on Thursday to set the terms of what would be a fully transparent inquiry into VW cars in France.
VW's peers are also turning their backs on the region's biggest car manufacturer. The European automakers' lobby group, the ACEA, issued a statement saying that "there is no evidence this is an industry-wide issue."
Bloomberg and Reuters contributed to this report