A Volkswagen executive who allegedly spent more than a year throwing up smoke screens around the emissions-cheating automaker has been arrested in sunny Florida.
Oliver Schmidt, a former top emissions compliance manager assigned to the U.S., ran defense for the company in the long run-up to the diesel revelations. As allegations mounted and regulators began asking questions, Schmidt and other company officials blamed phony technical problems for the sky-high emissions levels seen during real-world testing.
According to the New York Times, Schmidt, a German national, was nabbed on Saturday and charged by the FBI with conspiracy to defraud the U.S.
When the damning report on VW tailpipe emissions by the University of West Virginia first raised eyebrows in 2014, Schmidt was serving as general manager of VW’s Engineering and Environmental Office in Auburn Hills, Michigan. By March 2015, he had moved on to become a top deputy for VW’s head of engine development. (Schmidt joined the company in 1997.)
During questioning by the California Air Resources Board and Environmental Protection Agency, Schmidt explained that the test results weren’t unusual. At the time, he was in a position to know about the company’s defeat devices. The affidavit accuses the executive of being involved in a wide-ranging conspiracy lasting from about May 2006 until September 2015, and of knowingly lying to the regulators.
Schmidt clearly wasn’t alone in this. According to the Michigan federal district court filing, Schmidt was just one of several employees who knew about the emissions-cheating software and conspired to hush it up. All signs point to broad knowledge of the rigged 2.0- and 3.0-liter diesel engines used from 2009 onwards.
As it turns out, a familiar name helped in the investigation. James Liang, a VW engineer who has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud, is listed as the top “relevant individual” in the affidavit, joined by two unnamed employees from the company’s engine development department. The engineer, one of the architects of the device, recently saw his sentencing pushed back to free up time for his assistance in the investigation.
Blabbing about alleged co-conspirators apparently has its rewards.