A Volkswagen engineer admitted guilt Friday for his role in the carmaker's emissions cheating and is cooperating with prosecutors, the US Justice Department said.
James Robert Liang, 62, of Newbury Park, California, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, to commit wire fraud and to violate the Clean Air Act.
A federal grand jury's sealed indictment against him on June 1 was made public Friday. The case is being heard in a federal court in Detroit.
The company last year admitted that software was installed on hundreds of thousands of its diesel cars to recognize emissions testing and operate more efficiently, producing less pollution than during normal driving.
VW faces billions of dollars in fines, damages and fraud settlements for violating environmental and consumer protection regulations around the world.
Liang worked for Volkswagen AG in its diesel development department from 1983-2008 in Wolfsburg, Germany. In May 2008, he moved to the United States to work in the launch of VW's so-called clean diesel cars in that market.
Liang admitted that he "and his co-conspirators" began work in 2006 on the company's EA 189 diesel engine, aimed at the US market, the Justice Department said.
The assertion of co-conspirators implies that additional indictments are pending or already under seal.
"According to Liang's admissions, when he and his co-conspirators realized that they could not design a diesel engine that would meet the stricter US emissions standards, they designed and implemented software to recognize whether a vehicle was undergoing standard US emissions testing on a dynamometer," the government said.
Liang confessed to helping devise and implement the "defeat device" within the cars' software, and that in meetings with US regulatory authorities "his co-conspirators misrepresented that VW diesel vehicles complied with US emissions standards and hid the existence of the defeat device."
For the 2009 to 2016 model years, "the co-conspirators continued to falsely and fraudulently certify" to the US Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) that VW diesel cars met emissions standards, according to the government statement.
"Liang admitted that during this time, he and his co-conspirators knew that VW marketed its diesel vehicles to the US public as 'clean diesel' and environmentally friendly, and promoted the increased fuel economy. Liang and his co-conspirators knew that these representations were false and that VW's diesel vehicles were not 'clean,' he admitted," the Justice Department said.