Schmidt appears to be andother US VW sacrificial lamb as indicted Germans hide behind extradition laws

Schmidt appears to be andother US VW sacrificial lamb as indicted Germans hide behind extradition laws

The US has jailed its second VW official since the Dieselgate scandal broke two years ago.

Oliver Schmidt, a former manager in Michigan, was sentenced on Wednesday to seven years in prison for his role in the German automaker's decade long scheme to cheat on diesel emissions tests, the New York Times reported.

The scandal has so far cost the carmaker over US$20bn in fines and settlements.

The sentence, including a fine of $400,000, was imposed in Detroit four months after Schmidt, 48, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the federal government and to violating the Clean Air Act. The sentence was in line with the prosecution's recommendation.

The paper said Schmidt, a German citizen, is the highest ranking VW employee to be convicted in the scheme in the United States. His case underscores the Justice Department's commitment to indicting and prosecuting participants in the companyss efforts to rig pollution tests on hundreds of thousands of diesel vehicles imported for sale in the US.

The New York Times noted most of those suspected of conspiring to defraud US regulators are out of reach of American justice in Germany which normally does not extradite its own citizens. Schmidt may turn out to suffer the harshest punishment for the emissions fraud even though he was hardly the only participant or the highest ranking.

He is also the author of his own misfortune. Having been transferred back to Germany, he came to the US for a holiday with his wife last January and was seized as he waited for a departing flight in Miami. Why he risked arrest by travelling to the United States remains a mystery, the paper said.

He'd worked for VW since 1997 and was general manager of the company's engineering and environmental office in Auburn Hills, Michigan, from 2013. He was responsible for the automaker's relations with the federal and California regulatory agencies that initially pursued the emissions cheating case.

Before imposing the sentence, the judge admonished Schmidt for his actions and described him as a crucial figure in a wide-ranging plot.

"You are a key conspirator responsible for the cover up in the United States of a massive fraud perpetuated on the American consumer," the judge said at the end of the nearly two-hour hearing.

Prosecutors asserted Schmidt had provided false information to federal agents after the Environmental Protection Agency uncovered the defeat devices Volkswagen used to circumvent pollution rules.

The judge said Schmidt's effort to conceal the existence of the devices from regulators was hardly an isolated mistake. "You viewed the cover-up as an opportunity to shine and climb up the corporate ladder," he said.

Schmidt had played down his role in the development of the devices and in the company's efforts to cover up its actions, the New York Times said.

Schmidt told the judge he he accepted responsibility for his wrongdoing. He had sought to limit his sentence to 40 months in prison and a $100,000 fine.

In a letter to the judge before the sentencing, Schmidt said his loyalty to VW had led him to be "misused by my own company". He cited a meeting in 2015 with a senior official at the California Air Resources Board at which he concealed the existence of software that allowed VW to cheat on emission tests.

"A script, or talking points, I was directed to follow for that meeting was approved by management level supervisors at VW, including a high-ranking in-house lawyer," he said in the letter. "Regrettably, I agreed to follow it."

But Schmidt did not identify any VW superiors who might have pressured him to lie to regulators.

The report noted VW has pleaded guilty to felony charges of illegally importing nearly 600,000 vehicles equipped with devices to circumvent emissions standards, paid $4.3bn in penalties and was put on probation for three years, with a monitor overseeing its compliance with ethics and regulatory measures.

Other than Schmidt, only a company engineer, James Liang, has been sentenced in the US in the matter, receiving a 40-month term in August after pleading guilty to conspiring to defraud the government and violating the Clean Air Act.

Another figure in the American investigation, Zaccheo Pamio, an executive in the company's Audi division, was arrested in Germany in July. As an Italian citizen, he faces possible extradition — unlike five other executives indicted in the US, all Germans based in their home country.

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