James Liang admits conspiring to defraud the US by developing a device that cheated emissions tests
9 September 2016

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 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.

Read more on Volkswagen's emission penalties in the United States here

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."

Our Verdict

BMW i3s

Revised hatchback sets out its range-extended electric stall in a new, sportier tune

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

Phill Tromans

Join the debate


9 September 2016
Prosecuting a German engineer? Never. The US will probably do a deal and put him to work at Cape Canaveral like it did with previous German engineers who should have been prosecuted.

9 September 2016
James Liang's admission of guilt is a key milestone. With many more to follow. This case will really hot up when evidence implicates members of the board who must be now feeling edgy having pocketed untold millions through this decade long fraud.

10 September 2016
Up pops the fountain of VW-related hate.

9 September 2016
Not a very German sounding name.. scape goat ?

10 September 2016
Why prosecute the individual, this was a corporate crime by the VW group. It's a bit academic who thought of the idea or who wrote the software, many people within the company must have been aware of the strategy. It seems wrong that one or two clever (but maybe slightly misguided) individuals should receive punishment for acting in what they may have considered to be in the best interest of their employer.

10 September 2016
Sounds very fishy, engaging with Bosch to develop the defeat device is not a one man job, it would have needed sanctioning from higher management.

10 September 2016
If a single engineer (or a small handful) is capable of perpetrating something like this at Volkswagen then I will never again buy a product from the group. If engineering and management oversight is this poor and ineffective how can there be any confidence in the integrity of the product?

11 September 2016
To prosecute ONE engineer when the entire board and the ex CEO knew about this fraud is just wrong, unless this is just the start of mass prosecutions of VW-people involved in this. GM knew their ignition system would be dangerous and it killed some people and still all the top management got away with it. Top management will always get away with murder (as obvious in these cases) and collect the millions while some scapegoat will pay the price. Be always so and will continue to be so.


Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week