VW pleads guilty in emissions scandal, six employees indicted
Six high-level Volks-wagen employees have been indicted by a grand jury in the company's emissions cheating scandal as the company admitted wrongdoing and agreed to pay a record US$4.3 billion penalty.
In announcing the federal indictments and plea deal on Wednesday in Washington, the United States Justice Department detailed an elaborate and wide-ranging scheme to commit fraud and then cover it up. At least 40 VW employees were involved in destroying evidence, the government said.
The penalty against the company is the largest ever levied by the government against an automaker, eclipsing the US$1.2 billion fine against Toyota in 2014 over safety issues related to unintended acceleration.
VW installed software into diesel engines on nearly 600,000 vehicles in the US that allowed the engines to turn on pollution controls during government tests and switch them off in real-world driving. The software, called a "defeat device" because it defeated the emissions controls, improved engine performance but spewed out harmful nitrogen oxide at up to 40 times above the legal limit.
US regulators confronted VW employees about the use of the software following tests conducted by university researchers that showed differences in testing and real-world emissions. Volkswagen at first denied the use of the defeat device, but finally admitted to it in September of that year. Even after that admission, the government said, company employees were busy deleting computer files and other evidence.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said: "Volkswagen obfuscated, they denied and they ultimately lied."
MORE ARRESTS COULD COME
The German company pleaded guilty to conspiracy, obstruction of justice and importing vehicles by using false statements in a plea deal. It also requires VW to cooperate in a continuing probe that could lead to the arrest of more employees.
Government documents accuse six VW supervisors of lying to environmental regulators or destroying computer files containing evidence.
In one case, one of the six engine development supervisors asked an assistant to search another supervisor's office for a computer hard drive that contained emails between them. Once the hard drive was found, another assistant was asked to throw it away.
According to the plea agreement, the supervisors and other employees agreed to deceive the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulators about diesel emissions, starting in May 2006, when they realised the engines wouldn't meet emissions standards that were going into effect in 2007.
Under the direction of supervisors, VW employees designed engines with "defeat device" software that would reduce emissions only when the vehicle was undergoing a standard US emissions test. They borrowed the idea from VW's luxury division, Audi, which was developing different engines with similar software.