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[SEOUL] South Korea has called for car giant Nissan to face criminal charges for allegedly manipulating emissions data on a popular sports utility vehicle, weeks after Seoul slapped the firm with a fine over the issue.
The environment ministry called on state prosecutors to probe Nissan Korea after saying tests had shown an emission defeat system on the Qashqai model that made it appear to be less polluting than it really was.
It also banned the sale of the vehicle in the country.
Senior environment ministry official Hong Dong-Kon, who handles transport-related regulations, told journalists: "Today, we're going to file a criminal complaint" against Nissan Korea's President Takehiko Kikuchi.
Last month Japan's number-two carmaker was hit with 330 million won (S$380,000) fine and Seoul said it would recall hundreds of Qashqais after the tests.
In a statement, Nissan said: "Nissan Korea's priorities are our customers, dealers and working closely and transparently with the Korean government concerning real-world NOx emissions of the Nissan Qashqai.
"We maintain, as we have throughout the discussions, that we have complied with all existing regulations and did not use an 'unjustified arbitrary setup' or an illegal defeat device in the vehicle.
"This vehicle was certified by the Korean government last year under regulations permitting the importation and sales of vehicles that comply with these emission standards.
"We are now studying the conclusions reached by the (environment ministry) and are currently exploring our options. We will work to return the vehicle to sale as soon as possible, and will be in touch with our valued customers and dealers about next steps."
The decision follows an investigation into 20 diesel-powered cars that began last December after German carmaker Volkswagen admitted having installed devices aimed at cheating emissions tests in 11 million diesel engines.
Last month another Japanese giant, Mitsubishi admitted it had been falsifying fuel-economy tests for years, manipulating data to make cars seem more efficient than they were in reality.
VW's admission in September plunged the company into its deepest-ever crisis.
The automaker acknowledged 11 million vehicles are fitted with software that reduces pollution levels only when the car is being tested for emissions.
In late April the company said it was setting aside 16.2 billion euros (S$25 billion) in provisions to cover the anticipated costs of the scandal.
Last November Seoul ordered Volkswagen Korea to recall more than 125,000 diesel-powered cars sold in the Korean market and fined the firm 14.1 billion won.