The head of diesel competence at Volkswagen AG from 2008 until June 2016, James Robert Liang, has entered a guilty plea to a grand jury indictment of conspiracy to defraud the US government, to commit wire fraud, and to violate the Clean Air Act, according to recent reports. The maximum penalty for the charges is a 5-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.
Accompanying the guilty plea, newly unsealed federal documents have revealed new details of how Volkswagen engineers planned from the start of the company’s “clean diesel” initiative to utilize defeat devices to pass US emissions tests. In other words, it was intended from the start that the “clean diesel” program be, in the US, simply a cover for fraud.
Given the guilty plea, it seems fairly likely that the Volkswagen engineer is cooperating with Department of Justice investigators, and thus that further charges against other Volkswagen engineers and execs may be forthcoming.
“This is important because he’s admitting to a conspiracy, and of course you have to have someone else with you conspire,” commented Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor, in a recent statement. “The interesting question is who in Germany can he identify and testify against.”
As a reminder here, Volkswagen has already come to an agreement with US authorities to pay out $16.5 billion to buyers and car dealers affected by the scandal (who have purchased or stocked affected models). Further lawsuits are also underway, including some in other countries.
The Detroit News provides further information: “In a plea agreement with the government signed August 31 by Liang, 62, of Newbury Park, California, prosecutors say in exchange for his agreement to cooperate with the government, it agrees not to use new information about Liang’s own criminal conduct against him at sentencing. Henning said Liang can give prosecutors ‘a road map’ of who was involved in the scandal. The Justice Department last year implemented new guidelines that call for linking individual accountability as part of corporate investigations.”
Continuing: “In court Friday, Assistant US Attorney Mark Chutkow said Liang knew two or more of his colleagues engaged in the same criminal acts, and that Liang emailed co-workers in the United States and Germany from 2012 to 2015 to further the conspiracy. Liang and others, according to federal documents, at least twice attempted to cover up the existence of the defeat device.”
The plea was accompanied by an admittance by Liang that he aided others in lying “to federal and state regulators and customers even after regulators started to have concerns about diesel vehicles’ road performance.”
Notably, Liang had also been indicted for violating the Clean Air Act, but under the plea agreement he avoided having to enter a plea to that charge.
It should be remembered that “regular” use of the affected diesel vehicles (outside of defeat device parameters) resulted in nitrogen oxide emissions up to 40 times higher that those legally allowed in the US.
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