Volkswagen took a major step toward resolving one of the darkest chapters in its history Wednesday, pleading guilty to an emissions-cheating scandal and agreeing to pay $4.3 billion in criminal and civil charges as the United States announced charges against five new individuals.
As part of its settlement, VW pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and using false statements to import cars to the United States. VW executives Heinz-Jakob Neusser, Jens Hadler and Richard Dorenkamp were among those charged with conspiracy.
The court filings detail a scheme in which the German automaker deceived regulators and customers for years, and dozens of employees destroyed documents, even after the scandal broke in September 2015.
The emissions-cheating disclosures undermined the sterling reputation of German engineering and threatened the viability of a company that vies with Toyota as the world’s biggest carmaker.
Volkswagen pressed to resolve investigations and lawsuits as quickly as possible, while working to repair its reputation with car buyers and dealers. It’s now selling more cars and trucks then ever, offsetting declines in the United States with strong sales in China.
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 $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.