The US Department of Justice confirmed on Wednesday that Volkswagen AG had been charged with conspiracy to defraud and violate the US’s Clean Air Act by busing ‘defeat devices’ on its diesel vehicles that falsified emissions data.
As well as falsifying data, the German automotive giant admitted to obstructing investigations once US authorities became suspicious of the claimed emissions levels.
Five German-based VW executives have been charged with conspiracy over the affair. They are Heinz-Jakob Neusser, Jens Hadler, Richard Dorenkamp, Bernd Gottweis and Jurgen Peter while a sixth, Oliver Schmidt, was arrested in Miami last weekend as he was attempting to leave for Germany following a holiday. He was subsequently arraigned in a US Federal court in Miami.
A seventh VW official, a US-based engineer, was charged and pled guilty last September. He has since helped US officials with their investigations.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch said: “The investigation is still open and it is ongoing. Volkswagen knew of these problems and when regulators expressed concern Volkswagen obfuscated, they denied, and they ultimately lied."
She added the size of the fine reflected the severity of the charges, adding, "The knowledge and choices [Volkswagen] made went to the executive levels and that did set it apart from other companies."
Lynch added it “was too early to predict” how US officials will try to bring the German-based executives to trial. Germany currently does not extradite its nationals to the US. However, as part of its settlement deal, Volkswagen has agreed to work with the Department of Justice in its ongoing investigations. Further, Attorney General Lynch added more VW executives could face criminal charges.
The US$4.3billion fine is split into US$2.8billion in criminal fines and US$1.8billion in civil fines. This is in addition to the US$17.5billion the company has already paid out in North America in settlements with car owners, dealers and for environmental cleanup.
Volkswagen AG CEO Matthias Muller said in a statement: "Volkswagen deeply regrets the behaviour that gave rise to the diesel crisis.
"The agreements that we have reached with the US government reflect our determination to address misconduct that went against all of the values Volkswagen holds so dear. They are an important step forward."