A Volkswagen (VW) [corporate website] engineer pleaded guilty [plea agreement, PDF] in federal court on Friday to one count of conspiracy to defraud the US, commit wire fraud and violate the Clean Air Act [text, PDF] by implementing software in the manufacturer’s vehicles that could cheat US emissions tests. James Robert Liang was indicted [indictment, PDF] in the Eastern District of Michigan in June, but the record was just unsealed Friday. The Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] stated that Liang and other employees designed [press release] the engine in 2006 after they were unable to design an engine that met US emissions standards. According to Liang, his co-conspirators lied to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) [official websites] when they were seeking certifications required to sell vehicles in the US and continued to deceive the agencies for model years 2009 through 2016. During this time, Volkswagen advertised its cars to the public as environmentally-friendly and “clean diesel.” As part of the plea agreement, Liang has agreed to assist in further investigations. He faces a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment and/or three years of supervised release as well the possibility of a $250,000 fine, and restitution.
VW is facing legal difficulty around the world over the emissions scandal. Earlier this month, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) sued [JURIST report] VW and its local subsidiary for misleading customers. In August a district court in Germany, ruled [JURIST report] that a collective complaint against VW may move forward. Like US-style class-action lawsuits, the collective complaint was launched on behalf of multiple investors who lost money following the diesel emissions cheating scandal. In July a judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California gave preliminary approval [JURIST report] to a $15 billion settlement between VW and the US EPA, California officials and consumers. In June VW agreed [JURIST report] to spend up to $14.7 billion to settle allegations of cheating emissions tests and deceiving customers in a settlement with US regulators. In March the Federal Trade Commission filed suit [JURIST report] against VW for false advertising.