German car giant Volkswagen (VW) will admit guilt and pay a record $4.3bn in fines to settle a diesel emissions cheating scandal, according to US officials.
The US justice department also charged six VW executives for their roles in the conspiracy, five of whom are believed to be in Germany, while one was arrested in Miami on Saturday.
"Today's actions reflect the Justice Department's steadfast commitment to protecting consumers, to protecting the environment and our financial system, and holding individuals and companies accountable for corporate wrongdoing," US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said on Wednesday.
She also said the size of the penalty, the largest ever for a car company in US history, reflects the unusual level of premeditation of wrongdoing at high levels of Volkswagen.
"The knowledge and choices they made went to the executive levels and that did set it apart from other companies," she said at a news conference in Washington.
The carmaker will plead guilty to three criminal felony counts: conspiracy to defraud the US and US customers and violate environmental laws; obstructing justice by destroying scandal-related documents; and importing cars using false statements.
It will pay $2.8bn in criminal fines, and $1.5bn in civil fines, in addition to $17.5bn already agreed in settlements with car owners, dealers and for environmental cleanup.
"It is not uncommon for major automakers to come to settlements with the US government," Al Jazeera’s John Hendren, reporting from the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, said, citing previous cases involving General Motors and Toyota.
"What is unusual here is the language used by the attorney general and the fact that Volkswagen admits that is guilty of these charges. It is also unusual to have indictments of six individuals of this company - this goes on with continuing monitoring by the US justice department and three years of probation under an independent monitor.
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The plea deal also requires the company to cooperate in an ongoing investigation that could result in the imprisonment of additional former and current VW employees.
Since admitting to installing emissions-cheating software in its vehicles in September 2015, Europe's largest carmaker has been in talks with customers and governments over compensation and damages for the software, which was installed on 11 million cars worldwide.
The sophisticated software that defeated the emissions controls improved engine performance but spewed out harmful nitrogen oxide at up to 40 times above the legal limit.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies