Six high-level Volkswagen employees from Germany have been indicted in the U.S. in the automaker’s emissions-cheating scandal, as prosecutors made good on efforts to charge individuals in a corporate corruption case, reports the Associated Press. Bringing them to trial in the U.S. is another matter. In announcing the charges and a corporate plea bargain by Volkswagen, Justice Department prosecutors detailed a large and elaborate scheme inside the German automaker to commit fraud and then cover it up, with at least 40 employees allegedly involved in destroying evidence. The company agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and pay $4.3 billion, by far the largest fine ever levied by the government against an automaker. “Volkswagen obfuscated, they denied and they ultimately lied,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
Prosecutors may have trouble trying the executives in the U.S. because German law generally bars extradition of its citizens except within the European Union. Privately, DOJ officials expressed little optimism that the five VW executives still at large will be arrested, unless they surrender or travel outside Germany. The criminal charges are a major breakthrough for a Justice Department that been under pressure to hold individuals accountable for corporate misdeeds since the 2008 financial crisis. VW admitted installing software in diesel engines on nearly 600,000 VW, Porsche, and Audi vehicles in the U.S. that activated pollution controls during government tests and switched them off in real-world driving. The software allowed the cars to emit harmful nitrogen oxide at up to 40 times above the legal limit.