VW says has draft $4.3 bn deal to settle US criminal charges

In Germany, 2.6 million rigged Volkswagens were sold under the brands VW, Audi, Skoda and Seat, said the researchers -- a fifth of the country's total diesel fleet (AFP Photo/SAUL LOEB)

Washington (AFP) - Volkswagen AG said on Tuesday it had a "concrete draft" agreement to pay an additional $4.3 billion in fines and plead guilty to criminal charges to end the emissions-cheating scandal known as "dieselgate."

The deal is subject to approval by VW's board, and could be approved as early as late Tuesday.

The German automaker said it was in advanced discussions with the US Justice Department and Customs and Border Protection on the agreement to settle the criminal investigation and pay civil and criminal penalties.

The deal would resolve the final major legal hurdle facing the automaker in the United States since it admitted in 2015 to outfitting 11 million diesel cars worldwide with software designed to cheat emissions testing.

The defeat devices allowed those vehicles to spew up to 40 times the permissible levels of harmful nitrogen oxide.

Under the terms of the agreement, the company has agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges, which were not specified, and retain an outside monitor to oversee Volkswagen's legal compliance for a three-year period, the company said in a statement.

A Justice Department spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The VW announcement follows Saturday's arrest in the Miami of a Volkswagen executive on a charge of conspiracy, fraud and violating the US Clean Air Act as he concealed the defeat technology from US regulators.

While legal consequences for the company have been more muted elsewhere, in the United States, the emissions cheating scandal put Volkswagen in a world of legal trouble, sparking litigation by consumers, criminal authorities, state attorneys general and state and federal regulators.

The company in 2016 agreed to pay about $17.5 billion in compensation to car owners -- to fix or replace the affected models -- contributions toward environmental cleanup, and payment to dealers.

Despite the dieselgate crisis, and the 7.6 percent drop in US sales, the German automaker managed to hit a new global sales record in 2016, rising nearly four percent over 2015 with more than 10 million cars sold.

"I think what we did was wrong and it was a big mistake for Volkswagen and I'm very sad about it but we are really working hard to make it good," Volkswagen brand chief Herbert Diess said while unveiling new SUV models at the Detroit auto show on Sunday.

The company in November announced a rebirth plan, making a major move on the American SUV market, developing new ride-hailing and digital technologies and aiming to produce millions of new electric vehicles annually over the next decade.

Industry analysts, however, say VW is late out of the starting block in these areas, as players like Tesla, Chevrolet and Nissan already bringing all electric vehicles at mid-range prices to market, while the US market for light trucks and SUV are dominated by other players.