The CEO of Volkswagen's Audi division was arrested in Germany in connection with his alleged involvement in the Volkswagen emissions scandal.
The German investigation ensnared Audi boss Rupert Stadler, who was widely considered a subject of the probe but had so far survived the fallout from the scandal despite questions over the VW luxury brand's role.
"VW and Audi management have been very slow to act when it appeared that leaders of the companies were implicated," Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who has closely tracked the VW case, said in an email. "Even now, Audi is only replacing Stadler with an 'interim' leader. The reputational damage continues years after the scandal broke."
Stadler, who was accused by Munich prosecutors of collusion, becomes the first person in the VW executive suite to face arrest in connection with the scandal.
But he's not the first high-level executive to face accusations of involvement. Former VW CEO Martin Winterkorn was previously indicted in the United States on felony charges of conspiracy and wire fraud, but he has eluded arrest because he has not traveled to the U.S. since the Justice Department filed charges.
"In view of the ongoing investigations, we have no further comment to make on this matter," Audi said in a statement. "The presumption of innocence continues to apply for Mr. Stadler.'
A Volkswagen representative was not immediately available for comment.
Stadler's arrest marks yet another harsh reminder for VW and Audi that they have not escaped the damaging cloud of the emissions scandal. The automaker has admitted to rigging nearly 11 million cars worldwide with software to cheat emissions tests.
The scandal has cost the company some $30 billion and has led to criminal charges for several employees.
Stadler - who has guided Audi to global growth, making the brand competitive with Mercedes-Benz and BMW - has served as the brand's leader since 2007. He joined Porsche-family-controlled VW in 1990.
Stadler often was seen at auto shows and events promoting Audi's latest products, and he once was viewed as a potential successor to Winterkorn, who was ousted days after the scandal blew up in September 2015.
Asked by USA TODAY in January 2016 whether the VW emissions scandal would ensnare Audi, Stadler visibly bristled at the question and swiftly dismissed the topic.
Audi's development of 3-liter diesel engines involved in the scandal later became clear.
"His arrest is another low point in VW's diesel saga," Evercore ISI auto analyst Arndt Ellinghorst wrote Monday. "Consequently, investors constantly ask us why Audi's and VW's Supervisory Boards and indeed the Porsche families haven't taken action against the Audi CEO."
Ellinghorst noted that "the vast majority" of Audi's top executives have been replaced since the scandal erupted in 2015, but Stadler has managed to survive.
"Almost three years after the diesel scandal broke, it takes the police to take action against the Audi CEO," he said.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.
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