Democratic senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania today unveiled a bill that would make it a crime for business executives to conceal potential dangers posed by their products, Reuters reports. The bill was spurred by General Motors’ recalls of vehicles with a defective ignition switch which has been linked to multiple crashes and fatal accidents.
The bill proposes that any corporate officer who knows their products could cause death or injury to consumers but choose to hide that information face up to five years in prison and additional fines.
“Corporate concealment can kill, and corporate officers who engage in concealment must be held accountable,” Blumenthal said to media at a conference. “Corporations paying fines are an insufficient deterrent. We should have learned that corporate fines simply fail to provide the strong, effective message that some corporate officers need to hear and feel.”
GM may face fraud charges if federal prosecutors can prove the company misled regulators with statements about the flawed ignition switch before it was officially announced in February. Lawmakers believe GM executives knew about the switch in 2004 and failed to address the defects until this year. Current GM CEO Mary Barra, who entered the position from her former role of Vice President Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain, has said she did not know of the defect until early 2014.
GM’s internal investigation, conducted by former Lehman Brothers investigator Anton Valukas, didn’t blame top executives for the ignition switch debacle. Lower level lawyers and engineers were named in the report and subsequently fired for failing to discover and address the issue properly.
Blumenthal said the tougher penalties that would be imposed as a result of his new bull being passed wouldn’t apply to GM executives involved in the ignition switch case. He said GM’s activity is covered under existing criminal laws and the bill will instead be a deterrent for future corporate officers to commit fraud.