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March 10, 2017

Volkswagen Plea Deal Is on the Right Track but Fines Should Have Been Higher

Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen

Note: Volkswagen today pleaded guilty to three felony counts stemming from its deadly emissions cheating scandal.

Volkswagen engaged in one of the most egregious corporate frauds in memory, intentionally engineering its cars to evade clean air tests. This fraud was a massive deception against consumers and regulators, led to 40 times the pollution levels permitted for nitrogen oxide and, according to researchers, caused roughly 60 deaths.

The civil justice system has forced Volkswagen to make amends to consumers, but this intentional, long-running fraud requires tough criminal penalties as well. Government prosecutors were right to force Volkswagen to plead guilty to multiple felonies – and not to accept a deferred prosecution deal in place of guilty pleas – but they should have imposed the fines closer to those called for by the sentencing guidelines, which would have been five to almost 10 times higher.

The harshest penalties would be exacted against an individual who went on a shooting spree and killed dozens of people. Here, the culprit was a corporation, and we don’t know the names of the people Volkswagen killed. But they died just the same, and the company should be held accountable.

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