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VW engineering executive sentenced to 40-month prison term in diesel case (reuters.com)
288 points by rmason on Aug 25, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 217 comments

Not questioning his innocence, but will the executives involved be held to the same legal standard?


> U.S. prosecutors have charged eight current and former Volkswagen executives in connection with the diesel emissions cheating probe. Liang is one of the lowest-ranking executives charged so far.

> Another VW executive, Oliver Schmidt, has pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced in Detroit on Dec. 6. Under a plea agreement, Schmidt could face up to seven years in prison and a fine of between $40,000 and $400,000 after admitting to conspiring to mislead U.S regulators and violating clean air laws.

> but will the executives involved be held to the same legal standard

Yes, they will, but Germany will not extradite them. They already made that clear. And it is very unlikely that the german court system will prosecute them. Haven't heard anything yet, because this might inflict the politicians who backed this Diesel emission testing system for decades. They didn't even go to the technical root yet.

Only one made the mistake to go for his holidays to Florida, so he was caught.

Why will they not, do they fear they will not get a fair trial in the US or will be punished worse than their crimes dictate?

Honestly, US penal standards are so out of whack with those of the rest of at least the "western" world, that no country ought ever consider extradition as an option.

If they are German citizens, then the German constitution prevents the state from extraditing them (to a non-EU country).


It's strange to me that many countries sign "bilateral" extradition treaties with Germany or other countries with similar policies such as Brazil.

America does not have to extradite its own nationals to Germany, either. From the US-German extradition treaty:

Article 7


(1) Neither of the Contracting Parties shall be bound to extradite its own nationals. The competent executive authority of the Requested State, however, shall have the power to grant the extradition of its own nationals if, in its discretion, this is deemed proper to do and provided the law of the Requested State does not so preclude.

In fact, Germany has quite a few outstanding arrest warrants against US citizens, too: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/jan/31/usa.germany

Well. Is there any case where any western country did extradite their own citizen for non-spionage, non-military, non-war and non-capital crime? I hope not.

I certainly do not approve of the scam and deception VW did (and possibly other automobile manufacturers?), but I think I do not approve extraditing citizens of your own country for some non-capital crime. Or even some capital crimes for that matter. I (and most of the other Germans and EU citizens [1]) oppose death penalties. So extraditing someone to the US, which could result in death penalty if someone committed a murder, would be a really big ethical and/or diplomatic issue.

[1]: http://www.eidhr.eu/highlights/death-penalty

There are several examples where the US has successfully extradited people from the UK on charges related to financial crimes:



The US doesn't always gets what it wants, for example with Gary McKinnon: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19957138

Interesting. They served an initial time in the US and then the rest in the UK. I do not know how to feel about such high-profile fraud cases by banks and companies. Yes, someone should pay their debt, but maybe work on some arrangement across borders? I do not know, prosecute them together and let them serve in their home country. Cross border legal issues seem to be hard problem, especially between common law systems (UK, US) and civil law systems (almost all of Europe).

Fair enough on the death penalty, but I don't see how that's relevant for any other crimes.

It's already hard to understand the culture in a country. I see also the difficulty of handling administrative matters for my American wife, from taxes to mortgage contracts. Everything of course in a second language. Even people's gestures or their facial expressions are different.

To have to navigate the juridicial system in another country is a huge disadvantage. You will make errors which a native will never make. You will not know about options that are very clear to long term citizens. Etc. Etc.

All in all, whatever the crime, you would like to have everybody the same chance in your juridicial system. Foreigners will have a disadvantage however.

> To have to navigate the juridicial system in another country is a huge disadvantage. You will make errors which a native will never make. You will not know about options that are very clear to long term citizens. Etc. Etc.

All of that is the lawyers' job, not the defendant's, and these guys will be able to hire very good local lawyers.

No judicial system composed of humans can ever be perfectly fair and free of bias, but that doesn't mean we should let criminals go free.

because american prisons are shit to the point that prison rape is somehow a funny meme and joked about on tv, default sentences are ridiculously inflated, and people openly admit that you won't get justice unless you have money.

In the land of "rolling coal" (0.0), and no TÜV+AU (0),(1), any sudden punishment of violators from outside reeks of market protection.

(0) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technischer_Überwachungsverein

(1) https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abgasuntersuchung (non english WP link, basically it means "emission checking")


(0.0) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolling_coal

There's a big difference between a few rednecks illegally modifying their personal vehicles and a company selling millions of vehicles that fail emissions standards and trying to cover it up.

> selling millions of vehicles

VW sold approximately 475000 affected diesel vehicles in the US (compared to approx. 84.5 million car sales in the same time period).

This has always been my problem with the whole case. Yes they violated the law and yes they probably should be some punishment but the real impact was almost nothing, the vehicles would have met the restrictions of only a few years prior, and the limits are almost entirely arbitrary and politically motivated.

It likely resulted in multiple deaths from air pollution.

Now, yes worldwide 100,000's of people die every year from air pollution but simply giving up is a poor solution. Further, you can't make getting caught have similar penalties vs. cheating or you promote cheating as having zero downsides.

They knew the law, knew their obligations under the law and broke it with clear intent. How is prosecution arbitrary or politically motivated?

I agree. If we weren't on a forum filled with mostly people from CA who take for granted things like byzantine HOA rules and intrusive bylaws we'd be questioning why emissions requirements made "screw it, we're cheating on this one" a defensible decision for anyone at VW. You shouldn't have to break the law to be competitive.

"Screw it, we know how to meet the law, but we want to save money" is what VW did. Not only did it result in people dying from air pollution, it also left their competition wondering how VW did it so inexpensively.

the competition didn't get caught.

How many other car manufacturers broke the law in this way? We're none of the ones that didn't competitive? What a patently ridiculous argument.

Last time I checked all tested diesel cars displayed anomalies between their supposed emissions and their actual emissions. So at this point: Likely all car makers.

And while this hasn't been public knowledge, it is not that surprising, because it has been public knowledge how much the mileage tests are gamed, so it's not surprising that all other tests are gamed as well (and, specifically, using defeat devices is also illegal).

The technology exists for diesel engines to meet emissions regulations. However, German car-makers secretly formed an agreement not to use certain emissions reduction technologies (such as large, refillable AdBlue tanks) in order to save money:


There were a few who actually didn't cheat, or pulled out of the market. Opel is a prominent one as I remember.

Not really, both are stupid and should be punished.

"Rolling coal" remains an illegal modification, practiced by scofflaws. TÜVs are not immune to conflicts of interests.[0] And while generally not a separate sticker from annual car registrations, annual or biennial emissions testings are carried out by most states.[1]

>any sudden punishment of violators from outside reeks of market protection.

Perhaps it's because the EU lacks the authority of the member states to regulate & police emission laws. They started legal proceedings against their member states precisely because of their inaction.

"The European Commission on Thursday began the so-called "infringement procedures," calling Germany, Britain, Spain and Luxembourg to account for not imposing the same kind of penalties Volkswagen faced in the United States for using illegal software to mask health-harming emissions."[2]

Isn't that market protection as well?

[0]: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/15/business/international/co...

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vehicle_inspection_in_the_Unit...

[2]: http://www.dw.com/en/eu-launches-legal-case-against-germany-...

Most states emissions testing requirements are not stringent. Having lived in Washington, Oregon, and California I can say that WA's and OR's tests don't do much.

This "hack" by VW should have been caught in weeks by the EPA. It was detected simply by driving the car around with a sensor in the tailpipe.

And yes, when emissions testing switched to relying on the OBD codes, all was lost. Even I thought about hacking the ECU to report "all good"

This intentional evasion of emissions standards couldn't have been caught by the EPA test process. That should be changed (which will open other doors for other ways to game the tests) but it doesn't have anything to do with VW's willful violation of the law.

They updated their testing shortly after announcing VW's emission violations. "Testing vehicles in new and unpredictable ways is the new normal"


Did you even read the article about rolling coal? It's illegal in the US.

Our constitution forbids extradition of citizens to foreign countries.

There's an exception for other member states of the European Union, but that's it.

Because they knew it upfront. The whole Diesel testing system was rigged to eliminate costly end machine testing as done in the US, which historically led to costly cheating on the roll by the US manifacturers. They paid experts passing those tests which were paid as much as a Formula 1 driver. So the Europeans improved that to reproducible test cases, and much cheaper, only with the engine.

So when the problem with the overly large AdBlue tanks came up, the Europeans knew they can cheat that away, because legally they thought they can get away with it. The engine test passed legally, and there was no legal framework to protect actual sold cars from emitting too much NOx. This is of course entirely the fault of the politicians, which were of course lobbied into that, and didn't ask much. That's why VW insisted all the time that they acted legally in Europe. In the US of course not, because in the US the big three always had the advantage of special drivers to pass the emission tests. So they still don't fear any legal woes in Europe.

So the strategy is to keep calm, and protect the rest of the industry, the politicians, the workers, change the ECU's, and either add bigger tanks or change AdBlue more often. It's insane to ask for 2 years AdBlue storage anyway. 6 months if enough. And the good engines can pass the new EURO 6 limits, because their injection system is highly optimized. Those engines are miles better and more effective than a normal otto, which enables them to actually use the crap diesel oil. Problematic are only the overly large engines or the cheap ones.

Maybe because the Volkswagen AG employs 0.6 million people worldwide, 220 thousand of them in Germany?

If the Volkswagen AG would be the only culprit. So far it looks like Audi persuaded Bosch to add the cheat detection code into it's ECU used in almost every Diesel car, and consequently almost every car was using it. The scandal is much bigger than VW.

FYI: Audi is part of the VW AG.

FYI: Audi is the technological part of VW who actually develops and produces the engines. VW has not much to do with engines. Audi and Porsche also do own VW.


Germany has had laws against Nazi symbolism and activity for decades. This isn't new. "Now there is no free speech" is the rewriting of history--and it smells pretty disingenuous.

And Reporters Without Borders ranks Germany sixteenth in the world as far as press freedom goes. The United States is forty-third, behind such leading lights as Belize and Burkina Faso. The understanding that is that support of Nazism serves primarily as a declaration of the intent to commit violence, and the state reacting thereto, sure doesn't seem to be a problem.

In fact, they've had laws against Nazi symbolism since the US imposed it on them. From an article of the TIME from 1946:

To re-educate Germany, the Allies last week adopted a typically Nazi device. The four-power Coordinating Committee decided to reduce to pulp all "undemocratic, militaristic and Nazi" literature, museum and library material, newspapers, films and war memorials. (...)


Making a few specific Nazi phrases illegal doesn't meant there is 'no free speech'.

> And it is very unlikely that the german court system will prosecute them.

Germany is cool that its citizens conducted international fraud at a scale the world has never seen?

I don't think this statement is correct. The diesel emissions scandal is hardly a new scale in terms of international fraud — just think about banking.

Why wouldn't it? US is cool that its agencies conducted international privacy violation at a scale world has never seen.

I abhor this line of reasoning, and it is depressingly common, especially among partisans. "I can do illegal thing X because I believe that my political opponent did the same or similar."

Is has become so common that it is a tell that the person using this justification is deeply partisan or otherwise zealous in some manner or another.

Not mentioning Uber breaking every transportation law they can find.

And the US is cool with "rolling coal" because....

In July 2014, the United States Environmental Protection Agency stated that the practice was illegal, as it violated the Clean Air Act which prohibits the manufacturing, sale, and installation "of a part for a motor vehicle that bypasses, defeats, or renders inoperative any emission control device [and] prohibits anyone from tampering with an emission control device on a motor vehicle by removing it or making it inoperable prior to or after the sale or delivery to the buyer."


I love this bit (not a criticism, just find it amusing): "The bill was introduced by state Assemblyman Tim Eustace after a pickup truck blasted smoke at Eustace's Nissan Leaf while driving on the New Jersey Turnpike."

You're comparing industry-wide fraud with an illegal practice that individual citizens do? I'd wager that there are easily 100,000 trucks on the road in the US for every one that can "roll coal".

...It's not? It's illegal here. It's not often punished just because (a) it's quite rare and (b) most police have better things to do than pulling some guy over and emissions-testing his car over something that looks like a simple engine problem. It's in the news because it's political, but it's not actually common at all.

Aww - come on Winterkorn is already punished enough - his company pension is dire 3100 Euro. [1]


Per day. For reference, that is €1,131,500 or $1,350,000 per year.

> You’re in the top 0.007% richest people in the world by income.

> That makes you the 428,441st richest person on earth by income.

I'm really disappointed with Germany on this one, but it makes sense since VAG were buddy buddies with Merkel & co. since time immemorial (makes sense since it's a powerful force for the economy, still despicable).

If you kill a couple of people you go to jail or might even get executed. If you kill 1200+ you get early retired on a comfy stipend.


> If you kill a couple of people you go to jail or might even get executed. If you kill 1200+ you get early retired on a comfy stipend.

This falsely looks like a good point.

Cars kill a lot of people by virtue of accidents. Does that mean cars are a bad thing? You see, just because something inevitably kills people in practice it isn't automatically a bad thing. What you need to balance it with is the good it brings compared to the alternatives.

Your point makes a comparison between killing a couple of people for no good and the effect of cars and their exhaust.

Your point is bad.

.... a day

From the article:

"U.S. prosecutors have charged eight current and former Volkswagen executives in connection with the diesel emissions cheating probe. Liang is one of the lowest-ranking executives charged so far.

Another VW executive, Oliver Schmidt, has pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced in Detroit on Dec. 6. Under a plea agreement, Schmidt could face up to seven years in prison and a fine of between $40,000 and $400,000 after admitting to conspiring to mislead U.S regulators and violating clean air laws."

Good catch, that was towards the end.

The German automotive industry has a very aggressive culture. Our (German) managers put enormous pressure on us to do whatever it took to win deals. I can clearly remember watching one of our engineering managers turning a very unhealthy shade of green (~= #d2dbc9) as her boss turned the metaphorical screws to pressure her to win our segment's first big deal -- Ironically with VW as the customer.

Shamefully, I stayed silent as I watched my colleagues lie through their teeth to the customer: claiming, for example, that a range of functions were already mature and in series production when in reality they were little more than vapourware at that point. I have worked for enough startups to understand the concept of "fake it 'till you make it" -- but there are limits. In particular, the organisation needs to be prepared to follow through and make good on promises made -- or come clean when it becomes apparent that something cannot be done.

One needs to be especially careful when we are dealing with safety-involved automotive autonomy functionality where the consequences of hastily engineered and inadequately tested algorithms can sometimes be serious. I can well remember getting the distinct impression that the engineering team for these early products were essentially being set up as "fall guys" -- we took tremendous risks to win that early business, but it was clear that we would be very much isolated and alone when or if any of the potential downsides were realised.

> I stayed silent as I watched my colleagues lie through their teeth to the customer: claiming, for example, that a range of functions were already mature and in series production when in reality they were little more than vapourware at that point.

I worked for a guy like that. When I finally decided to call it quits he got physical (chased me through the company premises with an iron bar, not kidding).

Nowadays I would tell someone like that to fuck off at the first sign of such behavior, when I was young I could still be bullied.

The frustrating part of all this is that I did some of my best work for this asshole, simply because he'd promise the impossible to the customers and would then rely on me to get his ass out of the fire, which I inevitably found a way to do. Even so, it wore me out to the point where I had serious physical side effects from the stress and it messed up a lot of my private relationships.

After that I took it easy and ran a start-up of my own. It seemed like a vacation in comparison and only became stressful when it took off in a manner that we had never foreseen. Still, the stress levels never even approached what happened in those few years at that earlier company.

As a consultant, I've seen these sorts of environments over and over... either as dying companies or companies struggling to compete at risk of dying. Any sort of business that isn't defensible, high necessity, timeless, cost-controlled and managed well has an ass-kickability factor. Plus, too many businesses engage in restaurant-grade commodification, internal political satisfaction and ego competion instead of intelligent leadership to customer love, product agility and profit.

Great post. As a consultant I've seen my share of shady stuff and plenty of privacy violations, tos violations and questionable security practice. Untill I see something actually illegal (hasn't happened yet) I have a policy of documenting what I see in writing to the management, along with why I think it is innapropriate or in need of fixing, and calling it good at that point.

What would you do if you did see something actually illegal? Asking for a friend.

If it's actually illegal gather the evidence a prosecutor might need and use some method of whistle blowing. If your employer is a government you might end up a Snowden or worse though...

>he'd promise the impossible to the customers and would then rely on me to get his ass out of the fire, which I inevitably found a way to do

I think sometimes about this relationship between assholes and engineers. On one hand it's entirely manipulative and destructive to the engineer on multiple levels. On the other hand it has a track record of leading to achievements engineers probably wouldn't even attempt otherwise (or of the task actually being impossible).

But looking at the positive outcomes, how do we get those achievements without assholes exploiting engineers? The sort of achievements that a reasonable engineer wouldn't even attempt because the demands seem unrealistic?

You can lead from the front, carrot in hand, rather than sitting in the back with a whip. I've worked every bit as hard, and far more productively, for technical leaders who were visionary and inspirational rather than cruel and machiavellian.

Good question, no idea about the answer other than that it could involve some kind of bonus for achievement rather than abuse.

Most of the colleagues that I worked with on a day-to-day basis were very decent people -- albeit jaded and cynical to a tragic degree.

The biggest sources of pressure were offsite and in another country, which made "managing up" a very fiddly and tricky proposition.

We did have some problematic leadership on-site though. Our sales director, formerly a sidekick for the UK's equivalent of Donald Trump, and who had exactly the sort of relationship with the truth as you might expect, was responsible for much of the misinformation that made the situation difficult in the first place. A big chunk of the pressure was in order to make good on the lies that he had told - that sort of dishonest leadership can have insidious, widespread and lasting harmful effects.

He did try overt bullying with me once, but I was able to pull him aside after the meeting where he had tried to single me out and told him that he should either fire me or back off and let me do my job rather than trying to humiliate me in front of my peers. He backed off, at least overtly, but continued trying to undermine the authority of everybody around him. Eventually he got kicked out (after a conflict with another more experienced manager lead to mediation and all sorts of protracted HR stuff).

Another manager (the one who turned green) I had a lot more respect for. Even so, she tipped the scales of some key technical decisions by sending stakeholders overseas on a wild-goose chase at short notice so she could stuff the relevant meeting with people who would support the decision that she wanted. A dirty trick, and very hard to counter from hundreds of miles away.

My proudest moment was when I gently reminded one of our project managers of his ethical responsibilities -- that as a professional he had a duty to protect our customers as much as a duty to serve his employer. I feel that that was an inflection point in our relationship with one of our customers -- which until that time had been characterised primarily by deceit and dissembling, and which subsequently became incrementally more open and honest.

That whole period was not good for my health or for my marriage. I was away from home from 6am 'tll 11pm most days, and away in Germany on the occasional wild-goose-chase for weeks at a time -- leaving my wife alone to juggle her own full time job, and look after our two small children. (I was a terrible husband and father for sticking with that job for as long as I did, and I am tremendously lucky and privileged that she stuck with me through that period).

Anyway, I am very happy to be out of that particular corner of the automotive industry and now working for a company that could not be more different and more supportive.

Fake it till you make it is fine if the faking part is selling the story of what you are doing and why it's going to be so great. If other parties assume you are farther along than you are, that's fine. But actually lying to them isn't.

I view FITYMI as more as a positive confidence building and projecting practice. When it goes on to deception, either self-deception or deceiving employees, partners, customers or investors it's corrosively bad.

Sure, lying to one customer might get you a deal, but then you have to perform on that deal. And maybe you do, this time. But that just sucks you into doing it again and again and over time your organization is going to get known as liars who can't meet commitments.

> managers turning a very unhealthy shade of green (~= #d2dbc9)

I love engineers. Though that said, that does sound like a very harsh situation to be in.

But I am sure she got promoted and is now giving talks at B schools and on TED stages to young minds on how to make it.

There was much more information about his role in Bloomsburg last year. He was head of the diesel competence unit in the US, and appears to have been directly involved.


I was watching a german program on the VW scandal and was surprised to learn that the German government allowed VW to issue a software patch to correct the problem instead of offering to repair or compensate owners for the cars they purchased. Even with the software patch the vehicles still released emissions that were well above the norm.

Also, I don't believe any VW executives have ever been charged in Germany.

I was also very curious how they managed to get my '09 "fixed" somehow via a simple software patch. I would have understood it if it had lost 20% performance or got 20% higher fuel consumption - but that didn't happen.

So: if it was that easy to fix legally why did they cheat in the first place??

Of course it can't be that easy. So of course my car is still polluting over the limit. And I think this is a story that isn't getting the coverage it needs. A proper fix for my car would have been to install an AdBlue system into it, at great cost. Had they been forced to do that - or buy back the car - they would be in serious financial trouble.

That also answers why the German government is giving them some leeway here: it's not exactly in their interest to kill Volkswagen.

> That also answers why the German government is giving them some leeway here: it's not exactly in their interest to kill Volkswagen.

While the federal government does not have a direct stake (apart from all the tax euros), the fine state of Lower Saxony holds a 20 % share (which actually causes the MP and his economics minister to always be on the board of directors).

Interesting. Does that mean they could have been aware of the problem (from being on the board), before it became public knowledge?

The country has a huge stake regardless since they likely pay unemployment benefits if they were to go under etc.

Why would prosecuting the executives kill WV, though?

If VW is forced to make all regulations-breaching cars to be compliant and compensate the owner for down-time and loss in fuel-efficiency or performance, that might mean the end to VW. VW is touched softly, just like Intel, for example. I think both the car and the IC industries should be more regulated, and the regulations should be effectively enforced.

As far as I know, they did have to make the cars compliant. At least my colleague, who had an affected Skoda, got it "fixed" for free, including a temporary replacement car.

If there was a demand that the "fixed" cars were actually tested and were now under the limit while not losing more than say 5% in economy or power (or else owners would have to be compensated) it would likely find that the cars fail one or more of these requirements.

I believe it's now a middle ground: cars lost "only" about 5-10% performance/fuel eco, and they are still only half way to the NOx limit.

"if it was that easy to fix legally why did they cheat in the first place??"

Your car did take a performance hit and fuel economy hit. Not a big one, but enough to make it less competitive during instrumented tests by journalists. Tests are showing about 5-6% fuel economy hit which is not trivial, and also engine performance hit in higher RPM band.

Luckily, most car buyers don't push their cars enough to notice.

There are a lot of different parameters they can change, but the main ones are turbo boost and injection time. It is easy to find one set of values for each power output request that will make the engine run. Now you optimize. The combinations that is over the limits might not be that different than the values that is over the limits, so it is just a matter of trying them all to see what happens. This is done as an educated guess and refinement: we don't know exactly what any gives set will produce, but we have a good guess.

It totally can be that easy, though. Imagine the software in the car has the following pseudo-code…

    if (emissions_test_running()) {
    } else {
… which could get replaced with …


No, you have that backward a bit: the NOx emissions are high when the car runs efficiently (high compression/temperature)

So you can make the engine run at high temp, do 5L/100km and output 200hp, but with lots of NOx produced

Or you can run it cooler, with less NOx produced, but then it does 6L/100km and ouputs 175hp (say)

So basically the bad code was

    if (under test)
The reason why many diesel manufacturers cheated is because the numbers for diesels are only good if you run hot. All that low consumption, high power etc comes from its ability to run hot, but then it spews NOx.

This was made worse by EU regulations that focused 100% on CO2 - which is proportional to consumption only.

In order to sell cars in the EU they needed models that stayed under 120g/km CO2 (say 5L/100km) and of course they couldn't be lower power than the competition, and to stay under price limits for company purchases they needed models that stayed under the price limit where they could fit AdBlue systems

No Microsoft or Intel executives have been charged for grossly anticompetitive practices either. In my mind it is very simple: no country hurts its own industry too much. Effectively, other countries need to step in.

Are the emission standards in the US equivalent to those in Germany? From what I recall, the US has tougher standards. Granted, the cars will still be polluting, but they aren't technically illegal; in the US they are illegal to use.

The EU does have fairly strict "limits" for NOx emissions from diesel vehicles. The affected VW models, along with many other diesel vehicles, are known to far exceed these limits in real-world driving.

However, legally the cars are only required to meet emissions limits in test conditions, and the rules allow for emissions control devices to be disabled if necessary "to protect the engine". So it's not clear if any laws were broken by Volkswagen's use of a defeat device.

If there are to be any successful lawsuits against VW over the emissions scandal in the EU, they will likely relate to consumer law - i.e. that VW's cars were deceptively sold as being clean when they were not, and people's vehicles lost value due to VW's actions when the emissions problems became known.

The new US EPA laws do have higher standards but they only went into effect for the 2016 model year when the EPA adopted the California standards. So cars not registered in California and before the 2016 model year aren't held to the California standard unless these states adopted the California standard before the 2016 model year.

So purposefully modifying cars to illegally pollute to huge levels, causing deaths and disease from said pollution gets a few years in prison? The range of time people are charged with is so arbitrary and usually inconsequential with mass scale “white collar” crimes, and totally excessive for the poor and/or minorities. It’s insane.

> causing deaths and disease from said pollution

Has that been proven? Serious question, I've not kept up with the ins and outs of the case.

UPDATE: I should clarify, I mean specifically the increased pollution these VWs created not just pollution in general.

It seems reasonable to extrapolate given it’s 40x over the limit and we already know pollution kills (both directly as a toxin and indirectly through climate change).

NOx contribute wery little to climate change though.

Can we get the title changed to "VW engineering exec"?

As it stands, I think it's a bit misleading

Agreed; done.

> Liang is one of the lowest-ranking executives charged so far.

While I approve of strict punishments for such terrible actions, I worry that this is a case of a "scapegoat" being advertised as punished, so that the real decision makers higher up can go with lighter reprimands. Since the scapegoat is guilty of the crime, the deception is much easier.

He's welcome to testify about the CEO's involvement, I'm sure the Justice Department would be more than happy to make that case. But sometimes the only evidence can only convict those most directly responsible.

I worked on a 'sharing economy' service writing software. We had a project that boiled down to "we've found a legal way to start skimming tips without the users realizing it". It was technically legal. It was completely unethical. It was bullshit.

I called management out on it, said that I did not want to wind up like a "rogue engineer" at VW when the shit hits the fan, because I felt our upper management would gladly throw us all under the bus. "Don't worry, this is all perfectly legal within the contracts". They didn't understand the difference between "this is illegal" and "this is unethical".

I quit the company. I won't put loyalty to a company head of ethics, morals.

These VW engineers? Maybe the executives were the big fish who made the call, but they were the ones who agreed to make it happen. They are just as liable, in my view.

(I hear the project was eventually canned. The users who were beta tested on it immediately realized what was happening and threatened to quit.)

I wonder if he could win a civil suit against VW and their role in coercing him down this road.

Doubtful. He made his decisions as an adult, fully aware of what was right/legal - he could have refused but chose not to.

True, they did make a choice. The nuance I'm interested in is whether a person in this situation would reasonably assume they would lose their job, or promotion opportunities, etc, if they didn't do the illegal task as asked. And if so, does that create a civil liability?

While I'm not a lawyer, I'd have to guess he'd likely have grounds to sue over wrongful termination. Also I'm sure if he was willing to become an informant and testify against VW, the EPA would have been able to work with the DoJ to grant him immunity from any prosecution. I wouldn't be surprised if VW is similar to other large companies in regards to a "no retaliation" whistleblower clause in their corporate policies.

Based on what I've read about him, it seemed like he was more than eager to deceive regulators. He had many opportunities to come clean and avoid this and instead he chose to toe the company line.

I'm not sure that it would; the preferred route would be to refuse to perform the illegal request, and then make a claim against the employer if retaliation ensued. Of course, one could say one was under economic coercion, but that may be hard to demonstrate (as opposed to merely infer) and it's a difficult equitable argument to sustain.

Sounds a bit like "Superior orders" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superior_orders.

> that the defense of superior orders was no longer considered enough to escape punishment; but merely enough to lessen punishment

Not really. It wouldn't change the person's criminal sentence. Just give them a path to recover lost wages, etc, from the employer, in a completely different venue.

I doubt it.

Losing a job is not an excuse to do illegal tasks, especially when you have a senior well payed job and are not exactly scraping by.

In some cases you might even be required to report such illegal requests to some authority.

> In some cases you might even be required to report such illegal requests to some authority.

That's absurdly naive of the laws. At this level of management and up, these requests are not passed along in a traceable, litigable form, unless you have spectacularly unaware executives performing the demands. Look how far out of hand it had to get at Wells Fargo before there was action, and how long it took at VW before there was any sort of action.

Also, anyone with mediocre Internet searching skills can see the egregiously poor track record of whistleblowers' treatment everywhere. Unless you already are set up with your FU money, you'll die of starvation before seeing any justice in most cases.

Legislators and prosecutors need lessons in how these policies are enacted and implemented in the real world to actually catch this form of malfeasance. They need to catch the equivalent of Frank Abagnale who performs these kinds of misdeeds, gets caught, and teaches law enforcement and legislators how to actually nab others like him. Until then, they're just blind pigs accidentally stumbling upon truffles while going to take a piss.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Abagnale

That's absurdly naive of the laws.

Is it? The report triggers the investigation, which can then compel the reporter to provide those lessons. It doesn't have to end at the report. Of course, knowing that, the person is less likely to report - which is why these laws exist.

> ...the person is less likely to report - which is why these laws exist.

It doesn't work like that in the real world. These laws only nab the lower-rung staff in the unfortunate position of unavoidably leaving tracks while implementing the directives from higher management. Directives are given in abstracted form, and clarifications are passed out in untraceable means, typically verbal conversations, and even then the clarification is very rarely spelled out in black and white, and more often expressed as a gruff "do whatever it takes" command.

A soft, low-level form of how this plays out in the US that many can relate to: salaried employees officially are supposed to only work 40 hours a week. It is commonplace for many organizations to abuse that, but nowhere in official, litigable forms will you ever see a manager telling an employee they must work more than 40 hours.

Finally, above a certain level, employees who try to play CYA games with emails and/or written letters will find themselves frozen out by management. It isn't like this everywhere, but it is common enough that I see it happen in some of my client accounts where I consult at; fortunately, I'm not the adversely-affected party, but I feel for the many permanent staff who I see subjected to this anti-pattern.

If you really want to put a dent in this, then lobbying for allowing single-party recording to bring evidence of malfeasance to law enforcement might be a start.

"The nuance I'm interested in is whether a person in this situation would reasonably assume they would lose their job, or promotion opportunities, etc, if they didn't do the illegal task as asked. And if so, does that create a civil liability?"

If so, then the expected response would be for that person to whistleblow and/or establish an EEOC complaint or lawsuit for perceived retaliation. Going along with wrongdoing when there's no immediate danger to his life or even arguably livelihood (as a high-ranking engineering exec, he could probably find another gig easily) isn't a defensible position.

What about the banksters from 2008? Inspite of trillion dollar frauds, money laundering and what nots no banker has been prosecuted.

Is it because the engineering companies do not bribe the legislature enough, or because there is no threat to the stability of the financial system if they are prosecuted?

The moral of the story is if you are going to engage in major fraud, make sure the economy will be seriously destabilized if you and your cronies are prosecuted.

James Liang engineer for VW was sentenced to 40 months in prison and ordered to pay a $200,000 fine.

OTOH Michael Horn CEO of VW and person who signed off on the emissions testing cheating walked away with a 50 million pension.

Of course, you often get no choice in what you do when upper management says 'just do it'. It's that, or asshat exec decides to wreck your career, fire you, etc, etc,

A federal judge in Detroit ... of course..

In regards to the execs and CEO: I completely agree that it's terrible.

> you often get no choice in what you do when upper management says 'just do it'

You always have a choice. You can quit.

If your boss told you to rob a bank, would you do it? It's a more severe crime but it's still your boss saying "break the law or I'll fire you". It's simply a matter of where you draw the line, of how far into unethical territory you're willing to go for money.

Engineers should really get (remedial) classes on telling management to fuck off politely. On company time.

Seems like a lot of nerves were struck with this article.

How do we the title changed so it says this guy was an executive?

At the time I write this post many comments are claiming the execs will go free and this guy just took a fall. The article clearly says this guy was a low ranking executive, other executive were charged and this guy plead guilty, implying he rolled on them (but not stating that).

The article does not make that obvious -- it only mentions that Liang was an executive in the third-to-last paragraph, after referring to him as a "former engineer".

It's also possible that Liang was an engineer at the time of the crime, and then was moved to an executive position:

> Liang is still employed by Volkswagen but no longer works as an engineer.

We've added that above.

Shouldn’t there be a distinction between the person writing the code and the person who chooses to use the code? An engineer shouldn’t be responsible for knowing the law and doesn’t have access to corporate lawyers that executives do. You could argue that there are legitimate reasons to write code that’s illegal for research purposes but never implemented. Why should an engineer be responsible for that?

Per the article this engineer was an executive.

I'm in favor of punishing the people in charge, but I'm reluctant to overlook rank-in-file just because they were just following orders. It feels hypocritical, as an engineer, for me to say that engineers should be recognized not just for raw technical experience but for their ability to be creative artists and humane leaders, and then argue that senior engineers and their ideas and work have no agency or worldly responsibility beyond a requirements document.

According to the OP:

> Federal prosecutor Mark Chutkow countered that Liang was a "pivotal figure" in designing the systems used to make Volkswagen diesels appear to comply with U.S. pollution standards, when instead they could emit up to 40 times the allowed levels of smog-forming compounds in normal driving.

This wasn't just someone who wrote some code that he didn't intend to be misused. This is someone who used his expertise to direct the implementation of an unlawful system. To be successful in that, it seems you'd have to have a decent understanding of the law that you intend to break.

In addition, I would say there is value in trying to tell people, "Don't stick your neck out for corporate boss! Otherwise you may go to jail and they may go free."

The real crime here is 40 months in prison for violating the clean air act.

That is the whole slippery slope of plausible deniability. An engineer doesn't know every nuance of the law but some people had to actively know they were breaking the law. Those people should be punished, regardless of their level.

I'm in favor on increased whistle blower programs. There were lots of people who knew what was going at Enron and VW and others. If companies are morally bankrupt and think of profits at all costs, we should reward the grunts who can expose it.

That depends, was the engineer told "here is your spec", where the spec was they could have higher emissions than the law actually says, or was the engineer told here is the law, but you can ignore it if it gives us better numbers. In the first case the engineers who broke the law was mislead by those he should be able to trust to explain the law, while in the latter he knew he was part of breaking the law.

The law is generally written in legalese. It is really hard to understand how X volts on some sensor relates to emissions regulations. Therefore the engineers doing the work are easy to mislead, they probably don't even have access to sensor values that can directly tell you something in the law. Rather it is a mechanical engineer explaining that when the temperature is X and (pages of sensors they do have) you change these actuator settings. Give wrong information here and the engine will run as design and the programmer who made the mistake won't even know.

I would argue that he should have known that it is highly likely that any code would end up being used, despite how much they're told it's "for research" or a "prototype".

There's a flip side implication of this decision: it gives tremendous autonomy to engineers to stand up to management. It can empower legions of engineers to do the right thing when faced with pressure to do wrong.

Maybe I'm trying too hard to find a silver lining.

I'm angered at the hypocrisy of the management getting to sleep in their own beds for the next 40 months and their kids having no indication of their parent's role in this crime, while this engineer's reputation gets smeared for life. Not that he was innocent, but being the lone fallguy for a billion dollar corporation doesn't particular feel like justice.

Read the article. This guy was an executive and 7 or 8 other executive were charged as well.

He happened to be the executive in charge of engineering. He also plead guilty.

Indeed calling him an engineer, while technically true, suggests something different than what happened. He is an executive, not a line engineer.

Ok, we've put "engineering executive" in the title above.

I thought I had read it closely, but did miss the detail regarding his executive status. The implication remains, however, that higher executives were the source of the pressure to defraud. Maybe it was his idea and maybe they did get the "right" person.

Pleading guilty, however, is as much a sign of pragmatic intelligence as actual guilt, especially when dealing with federal law enforcement in the US.

One higher executive (Oliver Schmidt) has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing. The others are German citizens living in Germany and can't be extradited.


Technically Oliver Schmidt is also a German citizen, living in Germany. He just made the mistake of going to Florida for holiday...

Yes because criminally corrupt executives can not be extradided, but if Julian Assange steps outside he'll get a bag over his head and a one-way trip to Guantanamo Bay.

Doubtful. He would possibly have to stand trial for specific charges, whether or not they are ultimately rooted in truth.

Keep in mind that Assange is essentially the head of a news organization, and famous himself (in a related fashion). He can say both facts and opinions and they will be picked up and carried by others without checking the veracity or likelihood of being true because of his celebrity. Additionally, people will exaggerate his claims based on their own agendas. It's worth looking into the situation before accepting his take on it, or even that of his supporters, verbatim.

Julian Assange is not a German citizen living in Germany.

I was going to make a similar comment but in this case wasn't this guy in a leadership role? I believe the article may have even referred to him as an exec but I have to reread. But yes others should definitely be held responsible.

"Liang is one of the lowest-ranking executives charged so far."

Not a chance unless clear whistleblower laws emerge providing strong incentives coupled with extreme protections

There is already such incentives for companies defrauding the government [1] :

"Qui tam" where the whistleblower can receive "between 15% and 25% of any award or settlement amount" on cases like this seems to be a pretty huge incentive.

Look at the "Example" section in [1]:

      - 2009 :  
    [...] was awarded $51.5 million for his role as a whistleblower 
    102 million that was distributed between the six whistleblowers 
    [...] whistleblower was awarded 18% of the $253 million civil settlement
      - 2012 : 
    was entitled to $3.6 million of the settlement

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qui_tam#United_States

seems little for a lifetime of unemployment

If you stick $3.6m in a mutual fund and assume 5% returns, (which is extremely conservative) you'll maintain $180k indefinitely. Unless you waste it all on hookers, blow, and Lamborghinis you'll live pretty comfortably for life.

For comparison, average lifetime earnings in the US for someone with a degree are $1.8 million.

Why would you be unwilling to hire someone who's demonstrated that they're an ethical person?

why is it suddenly about me? I would. but statistically speaking, hr hiring and firing patterns do penalize any behavior that would get a company into legal trouble.

Are you kidding? $3.6 million is enough to retire and live comfortably for the rest of your life.

You think money is all that is for a comfortable life?

Of course not, but "having a job" isn't on that list. There's a whole world of hobbies, movies, books, people, and conversations that you'd be free to explore to your heart's content. If you want to build things, go right ahead, on your own terms and whenever you feel like it. Why on earth would you miss being required to sit in an office 40 hours a week?

Here's a case where a guys boss instructs him to write code that lets the company cheat emissions tests and to keep quiet about it. I wonder if he's thought that it would have been far better to have refused, even if it meant losing his job.

I'm having trouble finding much information on this guy's role in what happened, but what I can find makes it sound like he played a big part in making the decision to create the cheating software. He's an "engineer" but was with VW for decades and was in a leadership role when this stuff went down.

Obviously he still has a boss, but I doubt the boss outright told him to cheat. Smart companies don't break the law that way. They just give their people goals that can't be met legally, while wink wink telling them that legal compliance is important, and let them figure out how to reconcile it.

You don't know what sort of settlement is happening behind the scenes ..

This is why many academic institutions require a philosophy course for engineering majors. I had to take science, tech, and ethics.

I dunno, I kinda feel like this one is pretty clear-cut: 40 months in prison versus losing your job...

It's easy to call this clear cut when you don't know that persons situation and what losing their job would have meant to them at the time.

Not only that, but the dude apparently cooperated with the investigators.

Fuck the judicial system in the US.

Given the typical pattern of cooperation and plea deals, I assume his cooperation was in exchange for lesser charges and/or a relatively lenient sentence, i.e. it could have been much worse without.

Sure, but that doesn't mean it's any better.

"I'll only break your hand instead of cutting it off" doesn't mean you're getting a good deal.

Well he still broke the law(and not unjust ones either). Just because you cooperate doesn't mean you should get off free.

Your anger is misplaced: He IS guilty of wrongdoing (and doesn't dispute it), therefore, entitled to being held accountable, especially as an exec who led a related engineering division.

You seem to think he didn't actually do anything wrong. Why is that?

That's not my position.

Clickbait title. This was not a lowly engineer. This was an executive engineer.

Indeed. We added 'executive' above.

Note to engineers: managers will throw you under the bus as they see fit.

If you don't have the time to read the actual article, read the other comments - the managers are also facing jail-time. Also, this guy wasn't a regular engineer, he's also an executive, the title is misleading.

This was was an executive per the article.

That's an interesting definition of "executive". I guess journalism these days can make an exec out of anyone - can't wait to read about e.g. a toilet cleaning executive.

In another article his role is described as "head of the Diesel Competence unit in the U.S."

Maybe not directly comparable to a janitor.

It was a hyperbole; anyway, his current position is irrelevant, important is what positions he held while developing this software (which was deployed for many years). Article mentions "Liang is still employed by Volkswagen but no longer works as an engineer".

The article I got that from was from when he entered his plea, I'm pretty sure it is describing the role he had that was related to the charges.


I remember when this erupted first; VW management immediately started talking about "rogue engineers" adding such a functionality and promised punishing them. There was uproar over it here on HN if you look back.

No. Nothing will happen to top executives.

There's a lot of insight as to why from "The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives"

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15101170 and marked it off-topic.

Your cynicism apparently outweighs your reading skills:

Quoting directly FTA: "U.S. prosecutors have charged eight current and former Volkswagen executives in connection with the diesel emissions cheating probe. Liang is one of the lowest-ranking executives charged so far.

Another VW executive, Oliver Schmidt, has pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced in Detroit on Dec. 6. Under a plea agreement, Schmidt could face up to seven years in prison and a fine of between $40,000 and $400,000 after admitting to conspiring to mislead U.S regulators and violating clean air laws."

The article flatly says that this person an executive and that several other executives were charged.

This thread is fulling of people who didn't read a tiny well written article.

Oliver Schmidt is a low level manager in the Detroit office.

Not what would come to people's mind when "executive" is mentioned.

But I'm sure VW wants you to think their high level executives are being punished.

The article called him an executive, it might be wrong.

If the article is wrong then we should be talking about that (and the other executives that the article claims were charged) and not just presuming things.

What is an "executive"?

If a sales executive considered executive?

If a person has 5 reports, is he/she an executive?

It's impossible to be wrong to call everyone working in a company "executive", and both VW and DOJ know this.

I wouldn't say it's a well written article, it's confusing and ambiguous regarding the sentenced individual's role and position in the company. That makes all the difference between this being a slap on the wrist or a more meaningful reprimand.

It states that several other executives were charged. Even if this one person isn't an executive that one sentence makes it clear it this is more than a slap on the wrists for volkswagon.

I suppose it might not well written, but it certainly is concise. This took me about 90 seconds to read in full. That is entirely reasonable to read before posting.

Updating to say "top executives".

They have no trouble charging engineers and low level managers, but then it stops. It's not my cynicism because it happened so many times.

DOJ has no trouble charging a Goldman Sachs trader, but will never charge C-suite executives.

Read the book.

You must be mistaking them for US banking executives.

DOJ used the same procedure. Investigations were carried out by Jones Day (VW's law firm), paid by VW.

Don't be surprised when you get the same results.

Great news! Now everything goes. Executives doesn't need to have moral obligations to oversee their employees. Any problem, send them to jail.

He just happens too be the first person sentenced - there are many others, and the execs above him are facing higher fines and longer sentences.

A good lesson to learn.

"I was just following orders" is just as poor of an excuse for engineers as it was for nazis.

Would you please stop posting unsubstantive comments to HN? (Especially with Nazis.)

Less time than he'd get for robbing a gas station.

So instead of fining the company out of existence, they're putting a random engineer in prison?

VW has agreed to pay out up to $25 billion in buybacks and fines.

Because crimes against the environment are a capital crime. Death to everyone that works there and their families, right?

In these comments: A bunch of people who clearly didn't read the article.

Would you please not post unsubstantive comments here? Just because a thread is bad doesn't mean you should worsen it.

If you know more than others, don't put them down; teach us.

Edit: your recent comments have been crossing into incivility and you've done that (and we've warned you) many times before. If you keep doing this we will ban you, so would you please (re-)read https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and start being scrupulously civil when commenting here? We'd greatly appreciate your help to stave off the decline of this place at least a little longer.

Corporations aren't democracies, closer to tyrannies (Chomsky). You refuse work, look for new one...

Waiting for his boss to get 400 months, and 10x until CEO level. They killed people ffs.

>They killed people ffs

You say that as though they shot them or discussed the possible body count in a meeting.

Sure, people died as a far downstream result of a bunch of cars polluting a lot more than they supposedly did. The effect is far enough downstream that it's not really relevant. The alternative to VW breaking the law was not a pollution free world. People die as a result of things that are technically preventable all the time but society does not have the resources to allocate to preventing every "preventable" death or disease.

We as a society don't judge people by every downstream effect of their actions.

The lithium mine required to supply some of the materials for the computer or phone you typed that poorly thought out comment on probably isn't doing good things to the people that work at it.

I'm sure you own a few products that "fund terrorism" (or some other boogeyman) somewhere up the supply chain.

The world is a dirty place. Trying to make an example out of everyone who contributes to it just makes it dirtier.

>Sure, people died as a far downstream result of a bunch of cars polluting a lot more than they supposedly did

Breaking antipollution rules was pretty close upstream. Say boss wants to dumps cyanide into water supply, asks you to switch samples used for testing. Close enough for me to blow whistle.

It's pretty well known NOx shorten our lives (NOx + H20 = nitric acids in lungs)

>a bunch of cars polluting a lot more than they supposedly did 40x in NOx

They knew and pushed us into them (anyone else advertised diesel?) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNS2nvkjARk

Lastly it's the particles Pm2.5 Pm10. Especially dangerous to children


I might be wrong, but isn't using EGR (to reduce NOx) actually increase particulates in exhaust?

Correct, EGR increases particulates across the board. Another alternative is to reduce NOx creation in the burning process, which also increases particulate emissions and DPF clogging.

Sure, people died as a far downstream result of a bunch of cars polluting a lot more than they supposedly did. The effect is far enough downstream that it's not really relevant.

I disagree. Your approach just leads to buck-passing and cover-ups as corporate actors get into the habit of dumping costly externalities in the public's lap while pocketing subsidies and profits obtained through deception.

Guessing the cost of the externality requires estimating the excess pollution emitted by each vehicle model, the mortality incidence associated with the pollutants, and the sales volume - very easy for automotive production executives to acquire and correlate, an economic analysis they would be expected to perform anyway as part of their job.

People with pulmonary or cardiac disease drop like flies when the air quality gets bad enough. It's not -that- far downstream.

Are you thinking of issues like bio-accumulation of pollutants?

The worker goes to jail? What about the exec

This worker is the executive. He was in charge of the entire development of the project, and was a key decision maker in the later coverups.

They're calling him an engineer out of respect for his professional qualifications as such things are immensely important in Germany. Because he was an engineer, he has a duty to not act unethically within his professional capacity, and is shamed more than a mere MBA-style executive would be.

Every single boss that the engineer had ( all the way to the CEO ) should be go to jail for that if that engineer went to jail.

From having read the article I know that exactly that situation is likely the case. This guys some kind of executive engineer and several other executives were charged and just haven't gone all the way through processing yet.

Why? Is Pizza Hut's CEO criminally responsible if I run a red light to deliver a pizza because I'm afraid of being late?

Edit: Please explain how the VW case is any different than my analogy

If the CEO ties your employment to unrealistic expectations of delivery speed and builds a culture of recklessness, sure.

Actually, he should be. Unless he can show you had the training and the incentives to not do that, so it was entirely your fault.

If you're afraid with a reason, someone else did that to you.

(Those people have spreadsheets with everything weighed. Raise their costs, they'll cut out the psycho.)

Obeying the traffic laws is your responsibility, not the company's.

Otherwise the next time the CEO asks you to destroy the competition you'll say that he didn't specifically told you to not actually take that literally so it isn't your fault that you shot a guy in the head.

I do not understand?, if vw post huge profit the execs will all get fat bonus .in the case poor sob did all this behind his managers back ?.

If the customer is happy and all the pizzas get delivered on time the Pizza Hut execs will get fat bonuses too.

However, no matter how unrealistic the delivery estimates are, the execs are not responsible if I run red lights or speed to meet those requirements. There is obviously no legal liability on the CEO unless he explicitly instructed or encouraged me to do so.

Aren't the ones in charge (e.g. executives, managers, etc.) responsible for the wrongdoing and not the workers carrying out the criminal activity? I'm surprised his lawyer didn't make a claim that he was just "following orders." There have been countless recreations of Stanley Milgram's obedience experiment and its results have been consistent. People are willing to obey and comply to authority figures, even if it's for a detrimental cause. Isn't it unlikely that the engineer acted on his own?

Did you read the article (or any others about this) at all? His lawyer absolutely made the 'just following orders' argument:

"Liang’s lawyer, Daniel Nixon, on Friday urged Cox to consider a sentence of house arrest, saying Liang was not a “mastermind” of the emissions fraud. Liang “blindly executed a misguided loyalty to his employer,” Nixon said."

Also, executives are being charged:

"U.S. prosecutors have charged eight current and former Volkswagen executives in connection with the diesel emissions cheating probe. Liang is one of the lowest-ranking executives charged so far.

Another VW executive, Oliver Schmidt, has pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced in Detroit on Dec. 6. Under a plea agreement, Schmidt could face up to seven years in prison and a fine of between $40,000 and $400,000 after admitting to conspiring to mislead U.S regulators and violating clean air laws."

I find it horrifying that engineers here on HN think that following orders is a good enough reason to stay out of jail for something like this. No matter what executives have done, we must never remove all blame from the people who are directly responsible for committing crimes rather than doing the right thing.

Just "following orders" doesn't even work for soldiers, let alone criminals.

And it can't, because that would enable a huge loophole.

"U.S. prosecutors have charged eight current and former Volkswagen executives in connection with the diesel emissions cheating probe."

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