As part of a probe into Volkswagen's emissions-cheating scandal, prosecutors have searched the firm's Seoul headquarters and other South Korean offices. The raids come as the company tackles a widening global dispute.
A spokesman for the German carmaker's local unit confirmed that raids had been carried out on Friday at local Volkswagen and Audi offices.
South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that computer hard drives, emails exchanged with headquarters, emissions verification and vehicle certification information were confiscated by investigators during the search. The homes of company officials in charge of product quality control were also raided.
"We have made clear that we will fully cooperate with the investigation and our position remains unchanged," a Volkswagen spokesman told the AFP news agency.
The raids on Friday came just a month after South Korea's Environment Ministry filed a criminal complaint against Johannes Thammer, the managing director of Volkswagen's local unit, arguing that VW vehicles did not meet emission levels required by law.
Under South Korean environmental law, a conviction could result in a prison sentence of up to seven years and a fine of up to 100 million won (72,835 euros, $81,253), the Ministry has said.
In November, Seoul ordered Volkswagen Korea to recall more than 125,000 diesel-powered cars sold in the South Korean market after tests confirmed the cars were using software to produce incorrect emissions results during tests. The firm was fined 14.1 billion won ($12.3 million).
Based in Germany, Volkswagen has been engulfed by a global scandal over emissions-cheating software since September 2015, when it admitted that the manipulative software was present in more than 11 million vehicles worldwide.
So-called "defeat device" software limits emissions when the vehicle undergoes statutory tests, disguising excessive amounts of the exhaust gas nitrogen oxide under normal driving conditions.
The scandal has had huge financial repercussions for Volkswagen, with European sales now at their worst since the "Dieselgate" scandal first broke in autumn last year. A year ago, more than one in four newly sold cars was made by Volkswagen. Today its market share has dropped by almost 1.5 percentage points to 24.2 percent.
Increase in imported vehicles
Foreign carmakers, especially German brands like Volkswagen, have steadily chipped away at the South Korean auto market in recent years, with the sales of foreign cars in South Korea currently accounting for 15 percent of the country's total car sales - an increase of 5 percent since 2012.
Volkswagen and Audi currently top South Korea's imported car sales rankings, the second-biggest Asian market for diesel cars after India. For decades the country's auto market has been dominated by local giant Hyundai and its affiliate Kia.
ksb/sms (Reuters, AFP)