Volkswagen Said to Be Close to Settling U.S. Criminal Probeby
Automaker said likely to pay billions of dollars in accord
Resolution would close out both civil and criminal inquiries
Volkswagen AG is close to reaching a multibillion dollar settlement with the Justice Department over its cheating of diesel emissions tests, according to people familiar with the matter, wrapping up the company’s exposure to U.S. authorities in the long-running scandal.
The resolution, which could come as soon as next week, would include criminal and civil penalties, said the people, who asked not to be named because the negotiations are confidential. The government is expected to file a criminal case against the company or one of its units, which could include charges of wire fraud and misleading government officials, one of the people said. Authorities could still pursue individuals in the matter.
The government and Volkswagen have been trying to reach a settlement by Jan. 20 before the Trump administration comes into office and replaces the political appointees who have been overseeing the diesel-cheating case. VW also faces a criminal probe and lawsuits in Germany.
News of a possible imminent settlement follows Friday’s announcement that the VW got approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resource Board to fix some of the diesel-engine cars that were designed to cheat emissions tests.
Any criminal penalty from the government would come on top of a $14.7 billion U.S. civil settlement between drivers, regulators and VW that requires the company to fix or buy back about 480,000 of the cars in the U.S. with 2.0-liter engines cars and pay to promote zero-emissions vehicles.
Spokesmen for VW and the Justice Department declined to comment.
VW admitted last year that about 11 million diesel cars worldwide were outfitted with so-called defeat devices, embedded algorithms used to game emissions tests. The company has already committed to spending almost $20 billion to settle complaints by car owners, dealerships and regulators in the U.S. and Canada.
The carmaker has reached a preliminary deal with owners of premium diesel models with 3.0-liter engines worth about $1 billion. VW is confident at least some of those 82,000 cars can also be fixed. A formal settlement proposal is due by the end of the month.
The pending settlement was previously reported by the Wall Street Journal.
It isn’t clear whether Volkswagen will plead guilty as part of the settlement or whether more individuals would be charged. In September, U.S. prosecutors secured a guilty plea and cooperation from a former VW software engineer who reported to German executives.
U.S. authorities have traveled to Germany to arrange interviews with managers and seek cooperation in their probe of the automaker’s efforts to subvert anti-pollution rules, people familiar with the matter have said.
It isn’t clear who, if anyone, may face charges. Former Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn, who resigned days after the scandal was disclosed, took responsibility for the conduct while saying he wasn’t aware of any wrongdoing on his part.