Volkswagen has pleaded guilty to three charges as part of a $4.3bn (£3.5bn) agreement with the US regulators over the diesel emissions scandal.
The German car maker has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud, obstruction of justice and entry of goods by false statement.
VW general counsel Manfred Doess told a court in Detroit the company was “guilty on all three counts”.
He said the criminal acts occurred in both Germany and the United States.
‘Went to the top’
VW admitted that vehicles were fitted with illegal software which allowed them to cheat emissions tests over a six-year period.
John Neal, an assistant US attorney, told the US district court that the scheme “was a well thought-out, planned offensive that went to the top of the organisation”.
Under the deal with the Department of Justice, VW agreed to major reforms and scrutiny by an independent monitor for three years after admitting to installing the secret software in 580,000 US vehicles.
The devices enabled VW’s diesel vehicles to emit up to 40 times legally allowable pollution.
It comes as no surprise that VW pleaded guilty to criminal charges – it agreed to do so as part of a settlement with the Department of Justice agreed in January.
But the humiliation of the company continues. Its lawyer said VW was pleading guilty because it was guilty – such breastbeating making it clear that this was not simply a convenient way to appease the US authorities.
One prosecutor told the court the systematic distortion of emissions tests was a “well thought out, planned offensive that went to the top of the organisation”.
That’s a significant statement. It is still not entirely clear who in VW’s more senior ranks knew what was going on in the US.
But given that the American authorities have already charged seven current and former executives with crimes relating to the scandal, others may now be sleeping rather uneasily at night.
Accepting VW’s guilty plea, US district judge Sean Cox said: “This was a very, very serious crime.”
Volkswagen has agreed to change the way it operates in the United States and other countries as part of the settlement.
In January the company agreed to pay $4.3bn in US civil and criminal fines.
A spokeswoman for VW said it “deeply regrets the behaviour that gave rise to the diesel crisis”.
Since the emissions scandal broke in September 2015, the car maker has agreed to pay about $25bn to address claims from owners, regulators, states and dealers in the US.
VW has come under pressure to pay compensation in other markets too, including the UK.
However, the fallout from the scandal has not stopped VW from growing its sales. Last year, it over-took as the world’s best-selling car maker.