A German business magazine alleged Friday that the European Commission was tipped off as early as 2011 to the emissions discrepancies that have turned into a massive scandal at auto powerhouse Volkswagen.
The weekly, WirtschaftsWoche, said that when the commission failed to act, frustrated officials passed the information to the US-based International Council on Clean Transportation which, after its own tests demonstrated that VW diesel cars broke emissions regulations, informed US authorities.
The weekly reported that it had seen documents which show that an automotive supplier told the commission as early as 2011 that carmakers were cheating on exhaust controls.
The report spurred new controversy, with Green party lawmakers saying it suggested officials had lied to the European parliament.
"If this information is confirmed, that means that the former and current industry commissioners, respectively (Antonio) Tajani and (Elzbieta) Bienkowska, had hidden the facts and lied before the European Parliament," said two Greens European lawmakers Yannick Jadot and Karima Delli in a joint statement.
The report comes as Volkswagen continues to reel from revelations that its diesel cars were equipped with software "defeat devices" designed to cheat in emissions tests.
The cars meet official US and European standards when undergoing tests, but when on the road, the devices switch off and the cars emit up to 40 times the permitted level of poisonous nitrogen oxide gases.
The WirtschaftsWoche report quoted Mary Nichols, who heads the California Air Resources Board (CARB), as saying that it was EU officials that alerted the ICCT to the issue of Volkswagen's cheating.
Both CARB and the ICCT denied they were tipped off specifically about Volkswagen, however.
CARB spokesman Dave Clegern said Nichols was misquoted, but added that for years the group has discussed auto emissions issues with its EU partners.
"But VW was not brought up in the discussion. In the VW case, we did our own testing and discovery. ICCT was doing their project independently, as well," he said.
ICCT said in a statement that it "was never informed by anyone about possible cheating on vehicle emissions tests."
ICCT said it had discovered the problem of excessive emissions in VW cars as part of a general test of diesel vehicles. It only later learned of the role of the defeat devices from the US Environmental Protection Agency and CARB -- both of which only discovered it after following up on ICCT emissions tests results.
"We never designed or conducted any research project to search for defeat devices or any evidence of cheating. We learned of VW's actions from EPA and CARB, like everyone else," the ICCT said in a statement.
- Scandal takes toll -
The revelations of cheating on NOx emissions involving some 11 million cars have sparked investigations in several countries. In addition, Volkswagen last week admitted that it also understated carbon emissions for 800,000 vehicles.
On Friday, the company said the scandal was taking a toll on car sales, with demand for the group's 12 brands -- including Audi, Skoda and Porsche -- down 3.5 percent in October to 831,300.
And for cars bearing the VW badge, sales fell 5.3 percent for the month.
"The Volkswagen passenger cars brand is experiencing challenging times. We not only face the diesel and CO2 issues but also tense situations on world markets,” said Juergen Stackmann, chief of the Volkswagen brand.
"In western Europe, the temporary sales stops for vehicles affected by the diesel issue had an impact on sales," he added.
The emissions cheating revelations have come at a heavy cost for the group, which booked its first quarterly loss in more than 15 years as it set aside 6.7 billion euros to cover the initial costs of the scandal.
Its market capitalization has plunged by nearly 40 percent since September, when the scandal first broke.