While various other carmakers, such as GM, Ford, Fiat and Toyota, have had their share of headaches in recent weeks worried if and when Trump will tweet about them next, the epicenter of all car scandals over the past two years remains Volkswagen, and sadly for the German carmaker things continue to get worse: according to the NYT, the FBI haed arrested a Volkswagen executive on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Oliver Schmidt, who headed the company’s regulatory compliance office in the U.S. from 2014 to March 2015, was arrested on Saturday by federal investigators in Florida, the newspaper said, citing people familiar with the matter. Starting in late 2014, Mr. Schmidt and other Volkswagen officials repeatedly cited false technical explanations for the high emissions levels, the state attorneys general said. In 2015, Mr. Schmidt acknowledged the existence of a so-called defeat device that allowed Volkswagen cars to cheat emissions tests.
VW admitted in September 2015 to installing secret software known as “defeat devices” in 475,000 U.S. 2.0-liter diesel cars to cheat exhaust emissions tests and make them appear cleaner in testing. In reality, the vehicles emitted up to 40 times the legally allowable pollution levels.
Schmidt continued to represent Volkswagen after the company admitted in September that cars were programmed to dupe regulators. He appeared before a committee of the British Parliament in January, telling legislators that Volkswagen’s behavior was not illegal in Europe. Schmidt is expected to be brought before court in Detroit on Monday, the NYT said.
“Volkswagen continues to cooperate with the Department of Justice as we work to resolve remaining matters in the United States. It would not be appropriate to comment on any ongoing investigations or to discuss personnel matters,” it said.
Senior VW officials are not attending this year’s Detroit auto show, which is taking place this week.
James Liang, a former Volkswagen engineer who worked for the company in California, pleaded guilty in September to charges that included conspiracy to defraud the federal government and violating the Clean Air Act. But Mr. Schmidt’s arrest brings the investigation into the executive ranks.
The arrest came as Volkswagen and the Justice Department neared a deal to pay more than $2 billion to resolve the criminal investigation into the emissions cheating. The company or one of its corporate entities is expected to plead guilty as part of the deal.
The criminal case against Volkswagen, and the potential guilty plea, set it apart from other recent auto industry investigations. In settlements with General Motors and Toyota over their handling of safety defects, for example, the companies agreed to pay large fines, but did not plead guilty. Volkswagen has already agreed to pay up to nearly $16 billion to resolve civil claims in what has become one of the largest consumer class-action settlements ever in the United States, involving half a million cars.