The first person has been charged in the U.S.' Volkswagen diesel emission probe. Today at the U.S. Federal Court in Detroit, James Robert Liang, leader of diesel competence for Volkswagen from 2008 until June of this year entered a plea of guilty to conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, commit wire fraud, and violate the Clean Air Act.
According to grand jury indictment filed back in June and unsealed today, “Liang and his co-conspirators, including current and former employees, and others, agreed to defraud the U.S. and VW customers, and violate the Clean Air Act, by misleading the U.S. and VW customers about whether VW diesel motors complied with U.S. emissions standards,” prosecutors wrote.
Documents showed Liang was on the team that developed the diesel engine at the center of this scandal, the EA 189 2.0L four-cylinder back in 2006. The team realized that the engine wouldn't meet the strict U.S. standards on nitrogen oxide emissions while also attracting “sufficient customer demand.” Thus the decision was made to develop and install the 'defeat device' software on the EA 189 to pass emission tests. This engine would be installed on various Volkswagen vehicles starting in 2009.
In 2014, Liang's team would update the software to help cut down on warranty claims. Engineers believed the reason for the increase in claims was due to the vehicle operating with the defeat device on for too long. Around this time, U.S. regulators would begin asking Volkswagen questions about the discrepancies between the amount of emissions being emitted during lab tests and in real-world driving. Various Volkswagen employees either lied when talking with regulators.
“I know VW did not disclose the defeat device to U.S. regulators in order to sell the cars in the U.S. That’s what makes me guilty,” said Liang to the court.
Liang faces up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss. In a plea agreement signed on August 31st, prosecutors say in exchange for his agreement to cooperate with the probe, the U.S. government agrees not to use any new information about Liang’s own criminal conduct during the sentencing hearing expected to take place on January 11th. Liang's cooperation could help out in the investigation and shine a light on more people involved.
When asked for comment, Volkswagen spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan declined.