DETROIT -- After nine years of hiding its illicit, covert actions and at least a year of actively trying to deceive regulators, Volkswagen AG fully admitted its guilt to three federal felonies related to widespread emissions violations.
In an appearance on Friday, March 10, in U.S. District Court here, the German automaker pleaded guilty to conspiracy, obstruction of justice and introducing imported merchandise by means of false statements.
The plea means that the largest auto-maker in the world is a felon under U.S. law, unlike other automakers that have weathered recent scandals, such as General Motors' ignition-switch case and Toyota Motor Corp.'s unintended-acceleration imbroglio.
VW's sentencing will have to wait four weeks, though. District Judge Sean Cox said he wanted more time to consider the sweeping plea agreement between the government and VW, given the "serious nature" of the crimes.
That plea agreement, first announced in January, would settle claims by the EPA and the Customs and Border Protection agency. The two had gone after VW for importing, beginning in 2009, almost 590,000 turbodiesel vehicles into the U.S. that skirted clean-air regulations.
Under the terms of the settlement, if it is ultimately accepted by Cox, VW would pay $4.3 billion in penalties and continue to fully cooperate with investigators. The automaker also agreed to be overseen by an independent compliance monitor for at least three years, as well as a number of other conditions to ensure that it will comply with the law in the future.
If VW hadn't settled, it would have faced $17 billion to $34 billion in fines.
In a written statement after its guilty pleas Friday, VW said it "deeply regrets the behavior that gave rise to the diesel crisis." The company said the plea agreement reflects "our determination to address misconduct that went against all of the values Volkswagen holds so dear." The automaker said it "is not the same company it was 18 months ago -- the change process under way is the biggest in our history," and that it had "taken significant steps to strengthen accountability, increase transparency and transform our corporate culture."