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Report: Feds Open Criminal Probe Of GM Switch Recall

The U.S. attorney’s office in New York has opened a criminal probe into the circumstances surrounding the General Motors ignition switch recall, according to reports on Tuesday by Reuters and the Associated Press, citing sources who asked not to be identified because the investigation is not public.

Feds open criminal probe of GM

Federal prosecutors will examine, according to the reports, whether GM is criminally liable in the timing and handling of the switch problems that led to the recall last month of 1.37 million cars in the U.S. and a total of 1.62 million worldwide.

The U.S. Attorney’s office would not comment on the report. Its policy is not to disclose whether an investigation has been opened, and to comment only if an investigation leads to charges, according to Jerika Richardson, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York.

General Motors spokesman Greg Martin, noting the Justice Department policy, said that the company had no comment.

The report comes as the National Highway Transportation Administration already has opened an investigation into the timeliness of the GM recall and a congressional committee ramped up a separate investigation of both GM and NHTSA with demands for years of documentation and incident reports related to the switch problem.

GM shares on Tuesday fell $1.91, or 5.15%, to close at $35.18, the sharpest one-day drop in more than two years.

Depositions in a court case last year show that GM knew in as far back as 2004 that ignition switches in some Chevrolet Cobalts could move out of the “run” into “accessory,” killing the engine and cutting off power to the air bags and other systems. GM settled that civil lawsuit last fall. Terms weren’t disclosed.

Federal safety official also became aware of some cases of airbag failure and switch problem and told GM in 2007 that there had been fatalities.

The cars recalled in the U.S. are the 2005-07 Chevrolet Cobalt, 2007 Pontiac G5, 2003-07 Saturn Ion, 2006-07 Chevrolet HHR, 2006-07 Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky.GM says it knows of 31 crashes and 13 deaths as a result of the ignition switch/airbag problem.

Dealers will begin replacing the ignition switches on those models next month, GM says. In the meantime, owners are urged to drive using the ignition key only, with nothing attached.

A similar criminal investigation of Toyota’s sudden acceleration recalls by the U.S. attorney in New York has been ongoing since Toyota’s multiple recalls in 2009 and 2010.

The U.S. attorney’s office also would not comment on that investigation on Tuesday, but the company, in a statement to USA TODAY said, “Toyota continues to cooperate with the U.S. attorney’s office in this matter. In the nearly four years since this inquiry began, we’ve made fundamental changes to become a more responsive, customer-focused organization and we’re committed to continued improvements.”

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