En­gi­neer pleads guilty in emis­sions case

Baltimore Sun - - BUSINESS MARYLAND - By Roger Sch­nei­der and Tom Kr­isher

DETROIT — A Volk­swa­gen en­gi­neer has pleaded guilty to one count of con­spir­acy in the com­pany’s emis­sions cheat­ing scan­dal, ad­vanc­ing a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion by agree­ing to tes­tify against oth­ers.

James Robert Liang, 62, of New­bury Park, Calif., en­tered the plea Fri­day in U.S. District Court in Detroit to one count of con­spir­acy to de­fraud the govern­ment through wire fraud.

Liang is the first to en­ter a plea in the case, and his co­op­er­a­tion is a break­through in the Jus­tice De- part­ment’s probe into the scan­dal.

Govern­ment doc­u­ments say oth­ers were in­volved and point to mul­ti­ple emails in Ger­man that likely came from VW em­ploy­ees in Wolfs­burg, Ger­many.

Volk­swa­gen has ad­mit­ted to in­stalling soft­ware on about 500,000 2-liter diesel en­gines in VW and Audi mod­els in the U.S. that turned pol­lu­tion con­trols on dur­ing govern­ment tests and turned them off while on the road.

The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency found that the cars emit­ted up to 40 times the le­gal limit for ni­tro­gen ox­ide, which can cause hu­man res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems.

Liang, whobe­gan­work­for VW in 1983 in Ger­many, and also worked in the U.S., was in­dicted in June ononecount of con­spir­acy to com­mit wire fraud and an­other count of vi­o­lat­ing the Clean Air Act.

Ac­cord­ing to a plea agree­ment un­sealed Fri­day, Liang ad­mit­ted that he and oth­ers planned soft­ware, know­nasa de­feat de­vice, that could cheat U.S. emis­sions tests af­ter rec­og­niz­ing that a diesel en­gine they were de­sign­ing could not meet cus­tomer ex­pec­ta­tions and stricter emis­sions stan­dards.

Us­ing the de­feat de­vice en­abled VW to ob­tain a cer­tifi­cate from the EPA needed to sell the cars in the U.S.

Liang pleaded guilty to the VW says it in­stalled soft­ware on 500,000 2-liter diesel en­gines in var­i­ous mod­els that turned pol­lu­tion con­trols on dur­ing govern­ment tests and turned them off on the road. con­spir­acy charge be­fore Judge Sean Cox. He will be sen­tenced on Jan. 11. The judge said that guide­lines call for Liang to serve five years in prison. He also could be fined up to $250,000.

VW­wouldn’tcom­men­ton the plea but said Fri­day that it con­tin­ues to co­op­er­ate in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Liang, who wore a dark suit and tie, mostly re­sponded “yes” or “no” to the judge’s ques­tions at the Fri­day hear­ing, but also read a brief state­ment in which he ad­mit­ted to the fraud.

The judge noted that he is not a U.S. cit­i­zen and could be sub­ject to im­mi­gra­tion ac­tion.

As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney Mark Chutkow told the judge that two or more of Liang’s col­leagues also knew about the con­spir­acy.

Ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment, Liang and his co­con­spir­a­tors were tasked with de­sign­ing new diesel en­gines for the U.S. mar­ket that com­plied with stricter emis­sions stan­dards for ni­tro­gen ox­ide emis­sions that went into ef­fect in 2007. Within VW, it was re­ferred to as the US ‘07 project.

Prose­cu­tors say Liang and the other en­gi­neers re­al­ized that they could not de­sign a diesel ve­hi­cle that both met the stricter U.S. emis­sion stan­dards and per­formed well enough to sat­isfy cus­tomers.

CAR­LOS OSO­RIO/AP

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