So far: $23 billion cost
VW admitted in 2015 that about 11 million diesel cars worldwide were outfitted with so-called defeat devices, embedded algorithms used to game emissions tests. The settlement pushes the cost of the scandal to more than $23 billion in the U.S. and Canada and will force the company to increase the money set aside to pay fines and compensate affected customers, which currently totals 18.2 billion euros ($19.1 billion).
The government and Volkswagen have been trying to reach a settlement by Jan. 20 before Donald Trump is sworn into office and many of the people who have been overseeing the case step down. Though the case ends the company’s exposure to U.S. federal authorities, VW still faces probes from 42 state attorneys generals and a criminal probe and lawsuits in Germany.
Over the weekend, Oliver Schmidt, VW’s liaison with U.S. environmental regulators, was arrested in Miami as he was returning to Germany from vacation. An engineer previously pleaded guilty.
It was unclear if additional VW executives will be charged in the U.S. or Germany.
The Volkswagen plea, filed in federal court in Detroit, serves as a capstone for Lynch’s enforcement of corporate misconduct and stands as one of the top environmental cases pursued under President Barack Obama. Investigated in just over 16 months, the Justice Department case also delivers on promises to hold individuals accountable.
Dozens of Volkswagen officials in Germany have hired U.S. criminal defense lawyers over the past several months as the Justice Department ramped up its investigation, Bloomberg reported last month. U.S. authorities have traveled to Germany to arrange interviews with managers and seek cooperation.
VW has suspended or pushed out about a dozen executives in the aftermath of the scandal including former CEO Martin Winterkorn, who has denied any knowledge of the cheating.
The U.S. can charge individuals in Germany, but getting executives to stand trial in the U.S. could be difficult because Germany’s constitution bars extradition of German nationals to foreign countries other than European Union members.
U.S. officials declined to discuss that process during Wednesday's press conference.
VW has been making strides to wrap up other outstanding lawsuits in the U.S. On Friday, the EPA and California regulators gave their first approval to a plan to fix to some of the cars. A San Francisco judge has approved $14.7 billion settlement that requires the company to fix or buy back about 480,000 of the cars in the U.S. with 2.0-liter engines cars. VW is awaiting approval on a $1 billion deal concerning 3.0-liter engines.
Reuters contributed to this report.