MUNICH -- Volkswagen is suspending more employees as it investigates how software programmed to cheat emissions tests was installed in up to 11 million vehicles, reports said.
In addition to finding out who was responsible for the "cheat" software, VW is also focusing on executives who knew about the deception and failed to take action, the New York Times reported.
The failure of people inside the automaker to sound warnings about illegal engine software has emerged as a crucial element of the scandal, the paper said.
The Wall Street Journal reported that VW has suspended a larger number of engineers than previously acknowledged following a recommendation from U.S. law firm Jones Day, which VW commissioned to conduct an internal investigation.
VW's head of powertrain electronics, Hanno Jelden, is the latest executive among several top engineers suspended as part of the investigation, Reuters reported on Sunday, citing two people close to the matter.
German weekly Bild am Sonntag said Jelden was under investigation by German prosecutors on suspicion of fraud. Jelden is a 22-year VW veteran with expertise in engine and transmission electronics as well as hardware and software control systems, it said. He is suspected of reprogramming software to fool pollution tests in 2007 when the diesel engine at the heart of the emissions scandal was under development, Bild said in its report.
However, the Wall Street Journal said Jelden had worked previously in exhaust treatment and was not involved in software applications. Jelden was suspended as part of the wide net cast in the wake of the investigation, a source familiar with the matter told the paper.
Volkswagen declined to comment on the matter, and Jelden did not respond to emails seeking comment.
Jones Day has urged the suspension of anyone who could have been involved in the emissions cheating from high-level decision makers to ordinary engineers to prevent possible perpetrators from tampering with the investigation, the Journal said.
Many of the employees who have been suspended are likely to be found innocent of any wrongdoing and return to their jobs, a source told the paper.
Former VW CEO Martin Winterkorn has been cleared by internal investigators of knowing about the emissions rigging, Bild said. Winterkorn first learned about the deception a few days before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) went public on Sept. 18, according to the paper.
Winterkorn told investigators that he was made aware there was a "massive" problem with the EPA but he did not know it involved illegal software, Bild said. VW's long-serving CEO resigned last month, saying he was stunned by the scale of the deception and that he was not aware of any wrongdoing on his part.