The FBI has arrested a Volkswagen executive in connection with the German automaker’s conspiracy to deceive US regulators and hide the existence of illegal software programmed to trick pollution tests and mask excess emissions, which was installed in as many as 11 million vehicles worldwide between 2006 and 2015.
Oliver Schmidt, the former emissions compliance chief of Volkswagen, was arrested in Florida last Friday according to the New York Times and was charged with conspiracy to defraud the US on Monday. Schmidt was allegedly involved in the cover-up that followed a US investigation into the high levels of nitrogen oxide emissions coming from Volkswagen diesel cars.
The investigation began in 2014 but Schmidt and other Volkswagen officials only admitted to the existence of an emission test defeat device in September 2015. An FBI complaint states that Schmidt went so far as to give a presentation in July 2015 assuring upper management that US regulators were unaware of the device’s existence. As such, “VW executive management authorized its continued concealment” rather than opting to disclose the device to authorities, the complaint reads.
The defeat device was designed to automatically activate during EPA pollution tests to curb emissions from Volkswagen diesel engines. The concealment program allowed well over half a million Volkswagen cars sold since 2009 to belch pollutants on US roadways at levels as much as 40 times higher than the legal limit, Reuters reports.
According to a sworn affidavit by FBI agent Ian Dinsmore, Schmidt deliberately led criminal investigators astray “by offering reasons for the discrepancy other than the fact that VW was intentionally cheating on U.S. emissions tests, in order to allow VW to continue to sell diesel vehicles in the United States.”
Volkswagen has agreed to pay around $16 billion to settle civil claims in the US and is nearing a $2 billion settlement deal with the US Department of Justice.