The chief executive of Audi has been detained by German authorities investigating the ‘dieselgate’ scandal at parent firm Volkswagen.
Prosecutors in Munich said Rupert Stadler – the most senior group official to be held since the saga began – was arrested at his home in the early hours of Monday due to fears he might obstruct their continuing investigation.
He was later remanded in custody by a judge, they added.
Audi responded by insisting there was a presumption of innocence in the allegations.
It is understood the VW group’s supervisory board will meet later in the day to discuss the development.
The emissions scandal dates back to September 2015 when VW admitted using illegal software to cheat US emissions tests on diesel engines.
It later admitted so-called defeat devices were fitted to more than 11 million of the group’s cars worldwide, including 1.2 million in the UK.
The fallout has cost VW more than $30bn to date – the bulk of that sum in the US where, in May, prosecutors filed criminal charges against former VW boss Martin Winterkorn.
But he is unlikely to face any trial there because Germany blocks extradition requests to countries outside the EU.
The focus of the dieselgate scandal has since fallen on Germany, where the authorities are conducting a number of investigations.
Daimler, which owns the Mercedes brand, was the latest manufacturer to face scrutiny last week when Germany’s transport ministry ordered the recall of hundreds of thousands of vehicles over diesel emissions software.
It emerged in January that an agency – funded by VW, Daimler and BMW – had carried out tests on monkeys in 2014 in an attempt to demonstrate diesel engine emissions were not as harmful to health as campaigners claim.
A public relations chief at VW called Dr Thomas Steg later took full responsibility for the tests.
VW has since moved away from a focus on diesel technology towards electric vehicles – a focus expected to be driven hard by new VW group boss Herbert Diess.
His plans include changes to the company’s wider leadership structure.