South Korea fines BMW $10M, files criminal complaint over engine fires

Accuses automaker of being too slow to act

SEOUL — South Korea said Monday it will fine BMW 11.2 billion won ($9.9 million) and file a criminal complaint against the company over an allegedly botched response to dozens of engine fires reported in the country.

A South Korea Transport Ministry investigative panel's five-month review concluded that the German automaker deliberately tried to cover up technical problems and moved too slowly to recall vehicles after around 40 of its cars caught fire earlier this year. The ministry found the fires to be caused by faulty valves in the vehicles' exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) coolers.

An ABC News investigation reported a pattern of engine fires back in May 2017.

BMW apologized and recalled some 172,000 vehicles of 65 different models in July and October over the fires. Then in late October, it recalled 1.6 million vehicles worldwide. This followed a seemingly unrelated recall of 1 million vehicles in North America in November 2017 over fire risk posed by factors other than the EGR coolers.

BMW AG's South Korean unit said in a statement that the ministry's findings were generally in line with the company's assessment that the fires were caused by leaks of coolants in the EGR coolers. Combined with carbon and oil sediment, the leaks could combust and cause fires when the vehicles were driven at high speeds for long periods of time, but BMW said the issue could be solved by the exchange of faulty hardware.

The company did not directly address the ministry's accusation that it tried to play down the severity of the problem and recalled a narrower range of vehicles than it should have during its first recall in July.

"The BMW Group is cooperating with the ongoing investigation and is committed to resolving the issue," it said in the statement.

Junghyun Kim, an official from BMW Korea, said there had been no reports of injuries linked to the fires in South Korea.

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