VW to plead guilty in emissions scandal; 6 high-level employees indicted

Del Quentin Wilber, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in Business News

WASHINGTON -- Six high-level Volkswagen employees have been indicted by a grand jury in the company's diesel emissions cheating scandal, and the company admitted wrongdoing and agreed to pay a record $4.3 billion penalty.

The federal indictments and plea deal were announced Wednesday by the Justice Department in Washington. They involve the pollution violation and an elaborate and wide-ranging scheme to cover it up.

The penalty is the largest ever levied by the government against an automaker.

VW installed software into diesel engines on some vehicles that enabled the engines to turn on pollution controls during government tests and switch them off in real-world driving. The software -- called a "defeat device" because it defeated the emissions controls -- improved engine performance, but the vehicles spewed out harmful nitrogen oxide at up to 40 times above the legal limit.

Regulators confronted VW employees about the use of the software in the summer of 2015. Volkswagen initially denied using the defeat advice, then admitted to it in September of that year.

At a press conference Wednesday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said: "Volkswagen obfuscated, they denied and they ultimately lied."

The deal also requires VW to cooperate in an ongoing investigation that could lead to the arrest of more employees.

Government documents accuse six VW supervisors of lying to environmental regulators or destroying computer files containing evidence.

The German automaker has agreed to the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee compliance and control measures for three years.

Volkswagen previously reached a $15-billion civil settlement with environmental authorities and car owners in the U.S. under which it agreed to buy back up to 500,000 vehicles. The company also faces an investor lawsuit and criminal investigation in Germany. In all, some 11 million vehicles worldwide were equipped with the software.

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