Six Volkswagen executives charged with fraud over emissions cheating


Six former Volkswagen executives are being charged over their alleged roles in the 2015 emissions scandal, as the company admits liability and is ordered to pay a record $4.3bn (£3.5bn) penalty, US officials have said.

The men are accused of running a near decade-long conspiracy during their time at the firm and are being charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, violations of the Clean Air Act, and wire fraud, the US attorney general Loretta Lynch said on Wednesday, reports The Guardian.

“These individuals all held positions of significant responsibility at VW, including overseeing the company’s engine development division and serving on the company’s management board,” she said, adding that they had “seriously abused those positions”.

Separately, Lynch said Volkswagen had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the US, to commit wire fraud and to violate the American pollution laws. It also admitted obstruction of justice and “importation of goods by false statements”.

Consequently, the firm has been told to pay a $2.8bn criminal fine and a further $1.5bn in a civil settlement, Lynch announced. Volkswagen will also spend three years on probation and an independent monitor will be sent in to “oversee its ethics and compliance program”.

The penalty against the company is the largest ever levied by the US government against an automaker, eclipsing the $1.2bn fine against Toyota in 2014 over safety issues related to unintended acceleration.

Last month, it was reported that Volkswagen had already agreed to pay $17.5bn in the US to resolve claims from car owners, as well as regulators.

The settlements and penalties emanate from Volkswagen’s admission in September 2015 that it had installed secret software in vehicles to make them appear cleaner in emissions tests than they actually were. Some, it emerged, were emitting up to 40 times the legally allowable pollution levels.

Announcing the indictments and plea deal on Wednesday, the US 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.

It is alleged that, in one case, an assistant was asked to find and throw away a hard drive on which emails between two supervisors were stored.

The six executives charged were: Richard Dorenkamp; Bernd Gottweis; Jens Hadler; Heinz-Jakob Neusser; Jürgen Peter; and Oliver Schmidt.

According to the plea agreement, the executives 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 would not meet emissions standards that were going into effect the following year.

Under the direction of executives, Volkswagen 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 the firm’s luxury division, Audi, which was developing different engines with similar software.

In November 2006, some employees raised objections to the defeat device to the head of VW brand engine development. That official directed the employees to continue and warned them “not to get caught”.

In August 2015, a Volkswagen employee ignored instructions from bosses and told US regulators about the “defeat devices”. A supervisor confirmed their existence the following month.