A top Volkswagen official in the US was yesterday sentenced to seven years in prison, for his role in the German automaker's decade-long scheme to cheat on diesel emissions tests.
The sentencing of Oliver Schmidt, a former Volkswagen manager in Michigan, comes as the latest development in a massive scandal that has hit the company's reputation and has cost the carmaker over $20 billion in fines and settlements.
The sentence, which included a fine of $400,000, was imposed by judge Sean F Cox in Federal District Court in Detroit four months after Schmidt, 48, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the federal government and to violating the Clean Air Act. The sentence comes on lines of the recommendation of the prosecution.
Schmidt, who is a citizen of Germany, is the highest-ranking Volkswagen employee to be convicted in the scheme in the US.
According to commentators, his case underscores the justice department's commitment to indicting and prosecuting those involved in rigging pollution tests on hundreds of thousands of diesel vehicles imported for sale in the US market.
However, most of those suspected of conspiring to defraud US regulators are out of reach of US justice in Germany, which normally does not extradite its own citizens.
Describing Schmidt as an opportunist and a significant player in Volkswagen's attempted coverup, Cox noted that "senior management has not been held accountable.''
He added that the case had hurt both consumers who thought they were getting a good product and blue-collar and middle-management workers at VW.
He added that the VW case "attacks and destroys" the foundation of the country's economic system - the trust between buyers and sellers.
Cox came down heavily on Schmidt, seeing no excuses for actions of the highly educated mechanical engineer.
He noted that Schmidit had no history of substance abuse common among criminals, came from a good family and was well-off financially, with a $130,000 base salary, $40,000 annual bonuses and a net worth of $1 million.