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Veteran Volkswagen engineer James Liang (left) pleaded guilty to federal charges in connection with the German automaker’s diesel engine emissions scandal. (Credit: 7 Action News in Detroit/Jonathan Carlson;

Volkswagen engineer pleads guilty in U.S. diesel-emissions coverup

A veteran Volkswagen AG engineer pleaded guilty in federal court to a criminal charge for his involvement in the German automaker’s ongoing diesel-emissions scandal, marking the first criminal charge to date in the year-long investigation into the company’s efforts to circumvent diesel-engine emissions regulations in the United States and Europe.

According to a report in The Detroit News, James Robert Liang, who was leader of diesel competence for VW from 2008 until June, appeared in early September in U.S. District Court in Detroit to enter his guilty plea to conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, to commit wire fraud and to violate the Clean Air Act. That penalty includes five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Reports from several news outlets indicate Liang is cooperating with the ongoing investigation, increasing pressure on higher-ranking officials of the company.

According to federal officials, the 62-year-old Liang, of Newbury Park, CA, admitted “he was involved in making and implementing a defeat device so that the automaker’s diesel engines could appear to pass U.S. emissions tests,” said The Detroit News report. An emissions-testing team from West Virginia University disclosed in mid-2015 that it discovered Volkswagen had developed software that allowed the emissions-control system to work properly during testing regimens, but when the diesel-engine vehicles were driven on the road, the software disabled the emissions controls.

“’I knew that VW did not disclose defeat device to regulators in order to get certification,’” Liang said Friday in open court, The Detroit News reported. Court records include the details of Liang’s actual role in the scandal.

Despite Volkswagen’s recent agreement to settlements that may total $16.5 billion to remove 482,000 emissions-cheating diesel vehicles from U.S. roads., the U.S. continues its criminal inquiry into the company’s manipulation of emissions systems, said Bloomberg. And there has been subsequent inquiry regarding German mega-supplier Bosch’s possible role in what has been charged to be a decade-long scheme to evade U.S. diesel-emissions laws.

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