A long-serving Volkswagen engineer has pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the US, in the wake of the dieselgate emissions scandal.
James Liang, a German national, is the first individual at Volkswagen to face criminal prosecution. He entered the guilty plea at a federal court in Detroit to charges of conspiring to defraud the US, violating the country’s clean air act, and a count of wire fraud. Liang, who has worked for VW since 1983, faces up to five years in prison. He has agreed to co-operate with the investigation, and will be sentenced in January.
Prosecutors say Liang was one of the engineers at VW’s Wolfsburg headquarters who developed a cheat device for the Volkswagen Jetta in 2006. He then moved to the US in 2008 and conducted tests as part of efforts to conceal the defeat devices’ impact from regulators in 2014 and 2015.
The lawsuit against Liang was brought by New York attorney general Eric Schneidermann.
VW has already reached a deal with the US authorities to settle with affected customers, a move that could cost up to $16.5 billion and covers 482,000 cars. However, criminal enquiries continue in the US, as well as in Germany and South Korea.
The US Justice Department established a policy in the wake of the dieselgate scandal that required all corporate cases to include a plan to prosecute individuals, after criticism that not enough people were being held to account. Past cases brought against General Motors and Toyota saw no high-ranking executives accused of wrongdoing.
A spokesman from Volkswagen's headquarters in Wolfsburg said: "Volkswagen is continuing to cooperate with the U.S. Department of Justice. We cannot comment on this indictment."