Jones Day, a secretive firm with close ties to the current U.S. president, saw its offices in Germany raided Wednesday by local prosecutors investigating its client, Volkswagen AG.
The move, which came two days before German Chancellor Angela Merkel was due to arrive in the U.S. for a meeting with President Donald Trump, was called “unacceptable” and a “clear violation of legal principles” in a statement by Volkswagen.
Jones Day has been handling an internal investigation for Volkswagen into an emissions software scandal that led the German auto giant to reach a $15.3 billion settlement last year to resolve consumer class actions. Volkswagen agreed to pay $4.3 billion in civil and criminal penalties in an agreement earlier this year with the U.S. Department of Justice.
In February, Volkswagen agreed to pay another $1.2 billion to settle a few remaining claims and a suit brought by the Federal Trade Commission involving 75,000 3.0-liter diesel engine vehicles. (Many of those vehicles can be found sitting in empty stadium parking lots and old military bases around the U.S.)
German prosecutors have been conducting an investigation into whether certain Volkswagen executives were responsible for the emissions scandal at the company. A summary of Jones Day’s findings has been provided by Volkswagen to the Justice Department, but has yet to be released publicly. Reuters reported that Jones Day’s probe found instances of wrongdoing by certain Volkswagen executives but exonerated members of the Wolfsburg, Germany-based company’s management board.
In January, Volkswagen’s top emissions compliance officer, Oliver Schmidt, and five other corporate executives were indicted as the company—advised by Sullivan & Cromwell, Steptoe & Johnson and Magic Circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer—agreed to plead guilty to three U.S. felonies related to cheating on emissions regulations. Later that month, Volkswagen’s top compliance chief, former German judge Christine Hohmann-Dennhardt, unexpectedly left the company with a $12.8 million exit package, according to news reports.
German legal publication Juve reported that several German firms—such as Brehm & v. Moers, Eckstein & Kollegen, Haver & Mailänder and Krause & Kollegen—have been retained by Audi executives as a result of the investigation by German authorities.
German prosecutors searching Jones Day’s Munich office did so the same day that the headquarters of Volkswagen’s Audi unit were also searched, according to German newspaper Handelsblatt, which first had news of the raids. The paper noted that Jones Day’s internal investigation is not yet complete.
Two media representatives for Jones Day, which has offices in Dusseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich, did not respond to a request for comment on the matter. Volkswagen, whose general counsel is Manfred Doess, did not mince words in its statement.
“In our opinion the search of a law firm mandated by a company contravenes the principles of the code of criminal procedure,” Volkswagen said.
The search of law firm offices by government authorities, while unusual, is not without precedent.
The American Lawyer reported in 2009 on the Moscow offices of DLA Piper and White & Case being raided by officials from Russia’s interior ministry as part of an investigation into the development of a hotel in the city.