James Robert Liang, an engineer at Volkswagen, has been sentenced to 40 months in prison for knowingly working to cover up the fact that the German automaker was cheating on diesel emissions tests. The sentence also carries a fine of $200,000, which was an even steeper punishment than prosecutors had initially requested.
“The conspiracy perpetrated a massive and stunning fraud on the American consumer that attacked and destroyed the very foundation of our (fair market) economic system,” U.S. District Court Judge Sean Cox said during the sentencing hearing in Detroit, citing the fact that VW used the cheat to bypass the expensive urea-based emissions control hardware used by competitors and offer its non-compliant cars at a lower price.
For their part, prosecutors argued that, while Mr. Liang was aware that VW was cheating US emission rules on nearly 600,000 diesel vehicles in the US alone and 11 million vehicles globally, he was “not greeedy or immoral”, he was simply following orders.
Sharp-eyed readers will recognize that as the Nurembrug Defense used by alleged Nazi war criminals to justify their actions after the Allied victory for Germany. Using that logic, then, Mr. Liang’s attorneys should have spent more than a few seconds on the relevant Wikipedia page, because Nuremberg Principle IV states that, “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”
There was no way that Liang’s defense was ever going to work, is my point. The legal precedent at the core of his defense was too famous, too huge, and worked 100% against him. Here’s hoping the other VW employees who have been criminally charged and/or already pleaded guilty in the matter get better lawyers– for their sake!
No Clean Diesel from VW
As a quick reminder, Volkswagen has admitted that its TDi “clean diesel” vehicles were sold with illegal software programmed to curb harmful emissions during government lab test conditions after 2006, when Liang and his fellow VW engineers “realized that they could not design a diesel engine that would meet the stricter US emissions standards.”
Independent investigators determined that the cars emitted more than 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide, which can cause permanent respiratory problems in humans. VW got away with the cheat for as many as seven years before government regulators were alerted to it, costing the company billions in EPA fines and causing the company’s stock to plummet.