The federal indictment of a Volkswagen engineer -- and his agreement to cooperate with prosecutors under a plea deal -- could finally unravel the mystery of how VW managed to fool the world about its "clean diesel" engines for at least seven years.
Nearly a year after the scandal erupted publicly, James Robert Liang, who helped develop the EA 189 2.0-liter diesel engine at the heart of the scandal, pleaded guilty on Friday to conspiracy and fraud charges. More individual employees, and possibly others, could be named as participants in what U.S. prosecutors called a conspiracy within VW to defraud U.S. regulators and consumers in violation of the Clean Air Act.
Documents released Friday by the Justice Department made clear that Liang didn't act alone, frequently mentioning "co-conspirators" within VW who worked alongside him on the development of the engine, the test-cheating software and the subsequent effort to keep it hidden from regulators.
Liang, according to the plea, used the cheat software on the 2.0-liter TDI engine and helped make the software work, which the "co-conspirators needed" to win EPA approvals.
For model years 2009 through 2016, according to the plea agreement, the engineer knew his "co-conspirators continued to falsely and fraudulently certify to EPA" and California's Air Resources Board that the diesels complied with U.S. emissions standards and the Clean Air Act. He and the co-conspirators also knew that the company's "clean diesel" promotional claims were false, the Justice Department said.
According to the indictment, the co-conspirators included "current and former VW employees and others."
Liang's indictment also contains excerpts from emails that Liang and other VW employees exchanged as scrutiny from regulators increased in 2015 before the EPA announced VW's malfeasance in September.
According to the indictment, Liang was copied on a June 2015 email, with the subject line "[C]ARB Status," in which a VW employee wrote, in German, "We must be sure to prevent the authority from testing the Gen1," referring to the first-generation EA 189 engine. The email continued "If the Gen 1 goes onto the roller at the CARB, then we'll have nothing more to laugh about!!!!!"