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Monday, August 7, 2017

The U.S. Goes after Executives at Volkswagen: A Deterrent?

Oliver Schmidt, a Volkswagen executive who had been head of the company’s environmental and engineering center in Michigan, pleaded guilty on August 4, 2017 to two federal charges in the United States: conspiracy to defraud the federal government and violating the Clean Air Act. He “admitted conspiring with other Volkswagen employees to mislead and defraud the United States in 2015 by failing to disclose that thousands of diesel cars were rigged to evade detection of excess emissions levels. He also admitted filing fraudulent emissions reports to regulators.”[1] He faced possible fines and time in prison. James Liang, another of the company’s executives who had been charged, had already pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and violating the Clean Air Act. The other executives charged were in the E.U. state of Germany, which does not extradite its residents. Given the power of the auto industry in that state, such accountability applied to executives for the same fraud in the E.U. may have been too difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, for the sake of business ethics alone, prosecuting executives personally rather than just companies is in general important as a deterrent.

The full essay is at "Executives at Volkswagen."


[1] Bill Vlasic, “Volkswagen Executive Pleads Guilty in Diesel Emissions Case,” The New York Times, August 4, 2017.