Six high-level Volkswagen employees from Germany were indicted in the U.S. on Wednesday in the VW emissions-cheating scandal, while the company itself agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and pay $4.3 billion — by far the biggest fine ever levied by the government against an automaker. In announcing the charges and the plea bargain, Justice Department prosecutors detailed a large and elaborate scheme inside the German automaker to commit fraud and then cover it up, with at least 40 employees allegedly involved in destroying evidence.
Volkswagen obfuscated, they denied and they ultimately lied.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch
Prosecutors may have trouble bringing the executives to trial in the U.S. German law generally bars extradition of the country’s citizens except within the European Union. Still, the criminal charges are a major breakthrough for a Justice Department that been under pressure to hold individuals accountable for corporate misdeeds ever since the 2008 financial crisis. U.S. authorities are still investigating just how high the scheme went, and they held out the possibility of charges against more VW executives. VW admitted installing software in diesel engines on nearly 600,000 VW, Porsche and Audi vehicles in the U.S. that activated pollution controls during government tests and switched them off in real-world driving. The software allowed the cars to spew harmful nitrogen oxide at up to 40 times above the legal limit. Volkswagen pleaded guilty to conspiracy, obstruction of justice and importing vehicles by using false statements. Under the agreement, VW must cooperate in the continuing investigation let an independent monitor oversee its compliance for three years.