One of the executives at Volkswagen tagged in the so-called Dieselgate scandal has pleaded not guilty to a list of allegations surrounding the carmaker’s actions to cheat emissions regulations in the United States.
Oliver Schmidt is facing 11 felony counts in relation to VW’s efforts to deceive regulators in the US that its vehicles powered by its diesel engines were compliant with regulations. However, it was soon discovered that a cheat device was installed to hide the fact that the emissions levels of these vehicles were higher than certified. Schmidt is accused of knowingly taking in a conspiracy -- from May 2006 to September 2015 – to defraud the US and VW customers as well as to violate the Clean Air Act.
Filed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, the criminal complaint alleged that Schmidt knew that VW’s diesel vehicles released higher emissions levels when on the road than when undergoing emissions tests. The complaint added that Schmidt knew that discrepancy was caused by an intentional installation of software that could detect and cheat US emissions tests.
The criminal complaint was based on investigations on internal VW emails as well as accounts from two anonymous witnesses from the carmaker’s engine development department. The complaint also employed accounts from James Liang, a VW engineer who already pleaded guilty to fraud charges in September 2016. It was discovered that in August 2015, Schmidt and other VW executives concocted a plan to hide the existence of defeat device from regulators. Schmidt then had direct conversations with US regulators in which he deceived and misled them that the discrepancy was caused by reasons other than the cheat device.
Federal investigators arrested Schmidt on January 7 at Miami International Airport as he was attempting to return to Germany following a family vacation in the US. Although seven current and former VW executives – including Heinz-Jakob Neusser, Jens Hadler, Richard Dorenkamp, Bernd Gottweis and Jurgen Peter – were charged in relation to the Dieselgate scandal, only Schmidt is languishing in jail. Other indicted current and former VW executives remained free in Germany out of US law enforcement’s reach. These VW executives will not purposely go to the US themselves; it is also highly unlikely that they would be sent to America since it is rare for the German government to extradite citizens to face cases abroad.
During his appearance before US Magistrate Judge Steven Whalen, Schmidt pleaded not guilty to the charges, which could earn him up to 169 years in jail when proven guilty. His attorney, David DuMouchel, asked Whalen over the possibility of transferring Schmidt from the county jail to a federal facility in Milan, Michigan. Whalen didn’t rule on the request due to lack of authority on the matter, but said he would recommend for the transfer.
Despite the not guilty plea, Schmidt remained in jail due to “an extreme flight risk,” possibly because of the extradition situation.