Thomas Steg has accepted responsibility for the experiment which saw monkeys exposed to diesel fumes.

Volkswagen’s monkey scandal has claimed its first scalp – the embattled German manufacturer has suspended its head of external and government relations. 

The move comes in response to the current controversy over experiments sponsored by the company that saw one of the company’s diesel-engined Beetles gassing monkeys to prove that diesel fumes were safe to breath. 

The German car maker said it has accepted a proposal by Steg himself that he step down from his post and assume full responsibility for the experiments that were revealed by the New York Times last week. ‘Mr Steg has declared that he will take full responsibility. I respect that,’ said company CEO Matthias Müller. 

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It has emerged that Steg was among a small group of people who worked with EUGT, the research institute that created the experiment and was disbanded last year, on behalf of Volkswagen. The admission now raises questions about whether Volkswagen’s board, to which Steg reported directly, was aware of the experiments. The company has already denied that the tests were ever discussed at board level. 

Steg’s role was to lobby lawmakers on behalf of the German car maker, as well as crafting the company’s image to the outside world. The 57-year-old, who is married and has two children, has previously worked for former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder and opposition leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier, before ultimately taking up his current role with VW in February 2012. 

A temporary successor is already in place – Jens Hanefeld, who is responsible for international and European political issues at Volkswagen, will replace Steg on an acting basis until an investigation is concluded.