WASHINGTON | Six high-level Volkswagen employees have been indicted by a grand jury in the company’s diesel emissions cheating scandal, as the company admitted wrongdoing and agreed to pay a record $4.3 billion penalty.
The federal indictments and plea deal were announced Wednesday by the Justice Department in Washington involving the pollution violation and an elaborate and wide-ranging scheme to cover it up.
It’s the largest penalty ever levied by the government against an automaker.
VW installed software into diesel engines on some vehicles that allowed the engines to turn on pollution controls during government tests and switch them off in real-world driving. The software, called a “defeat device” because it defeated the emissions controls, improved engine performance but spewed out harmful nitrogen oxide at up to 40 times above the legal limit.
Regulators confronted VW employees about the use of the software in the summer of 2015. Volkswagen at first denied using the defeat advice, but finally admitted to it in September of that year.
At a press conference Wednesday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said “Volkswagen obfuscated, they denied and they ultimately lied.”
The deal also requires VW to cooperate in an ongoing probe that could lead to the arrest of more employees.
Government documents accuse six VW supervisors of lying to environmental regulators or destroying computer files containing evidence.
VW has agreed to the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee compliance and control measures for three years.
Volkswagen previously reached a $15 billion civil settlement with environmental authorities and car owners in the U.S. under which it agreed to buy back up to 500,000 vehicles. The company also faces an investor lawsuit and criminal probe in Germany. In all, some 11 million vehicles worldwide were equipped with the software.
Krisher and Durbin reported from Detroit. David McHugh in Frankfurt, Germany, contributed to this article.