VW settles diesel cheating cases: felony pleas, $4.3 billion fines

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2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI

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Last week, Volkswagen settled an array of criminal and civil charges over its 16-month-old diesel scandal with the U.S. Justice Department.

The news of the settlement was quickly swamped by a variety of further stories, both on the regulatory and diesel fronts.

Those included the arrest of one Volkswagen executive, and the issuance of warrants for five others who remain in Germany and seem unlikely to be extradited.

DON'T MISS: 5 more VW diesel execs indicted, including R&D head, after weekend arrest

But the deal signed by VW and the Justice Department is significant in its own right, because the company admits its guilt on no fewer than three felony counts of criminal misconduct.

It will pay a criminal fine of $2.8 billion, and operate under the oversight of a court-appointed independent monitor for three years.

In addition, VW will pay a further $1.45 billion to settle civil claims by the Customs and Border Protection agency under U.S. customs and environmental laws.

Volkswagen TDI 'clean diesel' television ad screencap

Volkswagen TDI 'clean diesel' television ad screencap

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On top of that, it will pay the Department of Justice itself $50 million to settle additional claims levied under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act (FIRREA).

Volkswagen made it clear that the company "specifically denies any liability and expressly disputes" that last set of claims, but had agreed to settle them to avoid the uncertainty and costs of continued litigation.

The court monitor will "assess, oversee and monitor the company’s compliance with the terms of the resolution," according to the settlement, "including measures to further strengthen Volkswagen’s compliance, reporting and monitoring mechanisms and implementation of an enhanced ethics program."

ALSO SEE: Emission updates for 2015 VW, Audi 2.0-liter TDI diesels OKed by regulators

In its statement, VW said specifically that it did not intend to comment on the status of a report prepared by the U.S. law firm Jones Day after an internal investigation of how the diesel emission cheating scandal evolved.

That decision was made so as "not to prejudice or otherwise impede ongoing investigations."

The Jones Day report was shared with the Department of Justice, however, and a DoJ statement of facts that accompanied the settlement "draws upon" material from the report, which has not been released to the public.

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI SE

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI SE

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While the agreement settles the bulk of VW's liabilities under U.S. law, it did not end Justice Department investigations into actions taken by individual executives and employees.

Those further investigations led swiftly to the arrest of executive Oliver Schmidt as he prepared to leave Miami after a vacation, and the five additional warrants issued days later.

The U.S. settlement also has no impact on the continuing investigations into VW's diesel cheating by the Braunschweig and Munich public prosecutors' offices in Germany.

CHECK OUT: These engineers uncovered the VW diesel emission scandal

Volkswagen's admission of felony charges stands in contrast to the Justice Department's settlements with General Motors and Toyota, which resulted only in deferred prosecutions.

The agency agreed in 2015 to the deferred prosecution of General Motors Company over defective ignition switches linked to 124 deaths, for which it paid $900 million in penalties.

The year before, Toyota had also received deferred prosecution over concealing information about sudden-acceleration cases. Toyota paid $1.2 billion.

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

Enlarge Photo

Analysts noted that Volkswagen's felony admissions and the total of $4.3 billion in criminal penalties reflected its deliberate intent to violate U.S. law, as well as its years-long pattern of lying to and withholding information from regulators.

In its own statement, Volkswagen noted that "the payment obligations are expected to lead to a financial expense that exceeds the current provisions" on its balance sheet for the costs of the diesel scandal.

The settlement agreements with the various U.S. agencies must still be approved by a judge.

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