The United State filed a civil lawsuit Monday against Volkswagen, alleging the company concealed defeat devices designed to cheat emission testing on more than 600,000 cars.

Volkswagen violated the Clean Air Act by misrepresenting the way its pollution-control systems worked on applications for vehicle certification. As a result, the affected diesel cars spewed pollution at as much as 40 times allowable standards, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

"Car manufacturers that fail to properly certify their cars and that defeat emissions control systems breach the public trust, endanger public health and disadvantage competitors," assistant attorney general John C. Cruden said. "The United States will pursue all appropriate remedies against Volkswagen to redress the violation of our nation's clean air laws alleged in the complaint."

Discrepancies between testing results and real-world emissions emerged in December 2014, and officials with the Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board spent approximately nine months attempting to determine the source of the problem. During that time, Volkswagen officials "impeded and obstructed" the investigations, according to the complaint. Volkswagen officials, including some from Audi, "knowing concealed facts that would have revealed the existence of the dual-calibration strategy ... when they had a duty to share such information, and also engaged in affirmative misrepresentations," according to the complaint.

The EPA will seek fines of up to $37,500 per car that violates the Clean Air Act, and the Department of Justice says it will seek as much as $3,750 for each component installed with the intention of circumventing emissions tests, meaning Volkswagen could face a penalty of approximately $18 billion.

Volkswagen did not immediately comment on the lawsuit Monday, but a company official is delivering a keynote address Tuesday at CES in Las Vegas.

Recalls for potential repairs have yet to be determined, according to EPA officials. In December, Volkswagen announced it had retained Kenneth Feinberg to administer a fund that would compensate car owners affected by the diesel cheating. Department of Justice officials said Monday their investigation is ongoing and conducted "in close coordination" with EPA and CARB officials.

"So far, recall discussions with the company have not produced an acceptable way forward," said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance at the EPA. "These discussions will continue in parallel with the federal court action."

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