Adding to a raft of investigations worldwide, Paris prosecutors have launched a preliminary investigation into possible fraud over the pollution-cheating software installed in diesel engines by German auto giant Volkswagen, a judicial source said today.
The opening of the French investigation was based on information from an elected official in the Paris region and also from public statements about the scandal that has engulfed VW, the source said.
Volkswagen has admitted 11 million vehicles worldwide are equipped with the software that dupes pollution emission testing. The French probe into suspected "aggravated" deception will only concern cars sold in France.
Nearly one million diesel cars of the Volkswagen brands -- VW, Audi, Skoda and Seat -- have been sold in France in recent years fitted with the pollution-cheating software, according to VW's French unit.
French Environment Minister Segolene Royal denounced Volkswagen's use of the software as "a form of theft from the taxpayer and the state" as the vehicles concerned benefited from state subsidies towards the purchase of "clean" vehicles.
But Royal added that countries should not tar other auto firms with a cheating brush.
"It is not because one company -- Volkswagen -- has cheated that everyone should be suspected," said Royal. She said French giants Peugeot Citroen and Renault had "guaranteed they did not have any cheat devices."
The French probe into the degree to which the affair may have threatened public health was launched by public health and anti-corruption authorities.
The World Health Organization in 2012 declared emissions from diesel engines to be carcinogenic.
Some of the vehicles with the cheat devices were found to emit 40 times the legally sanctioned levels of air pollutants called nitrogen oxides.
Alongside the Paris prosecutor's investigation, several complaints have been announced in France by an environmental association and the French owners of Volkswagen diesel cars as well as shareholders in the VW auto group.
Judicial investigations over the Volkswagen scandal have also been launched in several countries, including the United States and Germany itself.
EU authorities are also pushing for an EU-wide investigation amid claims several governments had long been aware something was amiss amid lax testing regimes.