A Volkswagen executive entered a guilty plea on behalf of the German carmaker Friday in a US court, formalizing the company's admission of cheating on diesel emissions.
The federal judge in Detroit, Sean Cox, said that he was considering the company's proposed 4.3-billion-dollar criminal and civil settlement with the US government, which was announced in January.
Cox said he would decide whether to accept the settlement at an April 21 hearing.
VW general counsel Manfred Doess, who travelled from Germany, told the court that the company was guilty of three criminal felony counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States and US customers and violate environmental laws; obstructing justice by destroying scandal-related documents; and importing cars using false statements.
"Volkswagen AG is pleading guilty on all three counts of the allegations because it is guilty of all three counts, and Volkswagen AG has admitted those facts," Doess said.
Under the plea agreement, VW will pay a 2.8-billion-dollar criminal fine, plus 1.5 billion dollars to settle civil violations of environmental, customs and financial laws.
VW will be placed on three years' probation, pay for independent ethics and compliance monitoring and must cooperate with an ongoing investigations of individuals responsible for the emissions cheating.
The scheme, which came to light in 2015, apparently started in 2006 as the company's engineers sought to develop diesel engines that could deliver adequate power to impress retail buyers, while still meeting fuel efficiency and emissions regulations. VW eventually marketed the cars as "clean diesel" technology.
In September, a Volkswagen engineer pleaded guilty to charges that he conspired to defraud the United States, to commit wire fraud and to violate the Clean Air Act. The US Justice Department said the 62-year-old US resident is cooperating with prosecutors.
A 48-year-old German who headed the company's US environmental and engineering department from 2012-15, with responsibility for US regulatory compliance, pleaded not guilty last month in Detroit to charges that he conspired to defraud US regulators and customers and violate the US Clean Air Act.
He is being held without bail as a flight risk after his arrest on holiday in Florida.
Five other former and current VW middle managers who were likewise charged in January over the emissions scandal are in Germany and cannot be extradited under German law.
They are accused of knowing that VW vehicles did not meet US environmental standards and that the company was using software to cheat tests and of deliberately concealing that information from regulators and consumers.
In June 2016, VW agreed to pay 14.7 billion dollars to cover buy-backs, damages and penalties for US car buyers.
The company's settlements and penalties in the US and Canada alone are already around 24 billion dollars.
VW is believed to have installed cheating software in the engines of 11 million diesel-fuelled cars worldwide. Vehicles are affected in the 2009-16 model years.