WASHINGTON -- A Volkswagen engineer pleaded guilty today in a U.S. court for his role in rigging emissions software on 2.0-liter diesels sold in the U.S., marking the first criminal charge in the U.S. government’s probe into the VW scandal.
The engineer, James Robert Liang, was named in a grand jury indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit in June that was unsealed today.
Liang pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, commit wire fraud and violate the Clean Air Act. The Justice Department said in a statement that Liang has agreed to cooperate with the government in its ongoing VW investigation as part of his plea agreement. This could increase pressure on higher-ranking officials of the German automaker.
In a statement and court documents released today, the Justice Department provided the most detailed narrative to date about the origins of VW’s diesel emissions violations, including excerpts of revealing emails sent among VW engineers amid scrutiny from regulators before the diesel cheating became public last fall.
Liang “is coming here to Detroit today to accept responsibility for his actions,” his lawyer, Daniel Nixon, told Bloomberg. "He is remorseful."
VW declined to comment on Liang’s indictment and said the company continues to cooperate with the Justice Department.
"I know VW did not disclose the defeat device to U.S. regulators in order to sell the cars in the U.S.,” Liang told the judge in court. “That’s what makes me guilty.”
The information Liang is providing to prosecutors could speed the investigation of the company. Settlement talks in the criminal matter could be resolved by the end of the year, two people familiar with the probe, told Bloomberg. Germany and South Korea are conducting separate criminal probes of the company.