Just prior to the Christmas holiday, the emissions scandal involving Volkswagen took on a concerning supply chain slant.  German government investigators announced that they are investigating employees at major supplier Robert Bosch in connection with the ongoing probe of whom is responsible for altering the software that controlled emissions of automotive diesel engines.

Under German law, no corporation can be held liable for criminal wrongdoing, thus prosecutors hone in on specific individuals working at corporations. Previously, investigators had been interviewing internal Volkswagen senior managers and engineers that could have altered emissions related software code. The new probe involving a major branded global supplier such as Bosch places on a broader emphasis on the ongoing probe. However, prosecutors have stressed that the investigation is at an early stage and no Bosch employee has been implicated at this point.

According to news reports, a spokesperson for the Stuttgart prosecutor’s office indicates that Volkswagen itself did not develop the subject software, hence the widening of the investigation. For its part, Bosch has indicated that it will fully cooperate with agencies concerning the ongoing investigation. Bosch’s defense is that while it provided the hardware and software components involved in emissions control, it does not have responsibility as to how these components are integrated into a vehicle’s overall system.

The ongoing investigation has already led to resignations or reassignment of several senior executives at Volkswagen.  With the probe widening to other elements of the vehicle value-chain, there is no telling how the investigation will ultimately turn-out.

In any case, the implications that design engineers or executives could be held personally accountable for criminal intent have obvious wide-reaching implications, not only for industry as a whole, but for Volkswagen and its supplier partnerships.

Time will tell how this saga transpires in the coming year.