James Robert Liang agreed to a plea deal with the US federal government to co-operate with the investigation into how the German automaker cheated American emissions tests and passed off its “clean diesel” engines as meeting state and government clean air standards.
Previously, VW executives had blamed the use of a defeat device to create false emissions readings, was the work of a “couple of software engineers”. Liang’s plea deal however points to the subterfuge dating back around ten years with strong involvement by the team that designed the engines.
Liang has revealed that as far back as 2006, VW engineers were aware that the EA 189 diesel engine was incapable of passing clean air emissions standards by itself. Instead of having the engine redesigned, the design team pressed ahead with plans to cheat the testing system.
“According to Liang’s admissions, when he and his co-conspirators realised that they could not design a diesel engine that would meet the stricter US emissions standards, they designed and implemented software to recognise whether a vehicle was undergoing standard US emissions testing on a dynamometer or being driven on the road under normal driving conditions (the defeat device), in order to cheat the emissions test,” the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said following their announcing of the plea deal.
Liang revealed that the device was used to attain the clean air certification on VW’s “clean diesel” models from 2009 to 2016, and that the carmaker kept up the lie, even after the US government had started its investigation.
The engineer, who has agreed to continue assisting the government with its investigation, pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy: to commit wire fraud, defraud the federal government, and violate the Clean Air Act. He is likely to face a maximum of five years in jail; three years supervised release, and a maximum fine of $250,000.
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