We knew it was coming, but now it’s official: Volkswagen, as part of a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice, pleaded guilty Friday to three felony counts related to its “Dieselgate” scandal.
Reuters reports that VW general counsel Manfred Doess entered the guilty plea in U.S. District Count in Detroit.
The pleas related to charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, obstruction of justice, and entry of goods by false statement charges as stipulated in the settlement deal reached with the Dept. of Justice in January.
“Your honor, VW AG is pleading guilty to all three counts because it is guilty on all three counts,” Doess told the court, as reported by Reuters.
The pleas were accepted by U.S. District Judge Sean Cox, who set a sentencing date for April 21.
“This a very, very, very serious crime. It is incumbent on me to make a considered decision,” Cox said.
A spokesperson for VW tells Reuters that Friday’s plea was the first time the company has pleaded guilty to criminal conduct in any court in the world.
Under the settlement agreement, VW was to plead guilty to the charges and pay $4.3 billion in civil and criminal penalties to the Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Customs office.
In addition to the guilty pleas and fines, the settlement included the indictment of six VW employees involved in the decade-long “Dieselgate” scandal and cover-up.
The individuals allegedly played a part in creating the “defeat device” technology used in VW’s “clean diesel” vehicles to skirt federal emissions standards.
VW’s woes began in Sept. 2015 when the company admitted more than 500,000 of its vehicles in the U.S. — and more than 11 million across the world — were equipped with the defeat devices that allowed as much as 40 times the allowable rate of nitrogen oxide to be emitted during regulator driving.
The software was first detected during independent analysis by researchers at West Virginia University who were working with the International Council on Clean Transportation, a non-governmental organization. The findings raised questions about emissions levels, and the EPA, along with the California Air Resources Board, began further investigations into the issue.
Since then, the company has been working on a number of settlements with environmental regulators, customers, dealers, and federal prosecutors.