U.S. judge delays sentencing of VW employee aiding in emission probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal judge on Tuesday delayed the sentencing a German man who is the only person to face U.S. criminal charges over Volkswagen’s diesel emission cheating scandal, as he cooperates with prosecutors still investigating the matter.

A Volkswagen logo is pictured at the newly opened Volkswagen factory in Wrzesnia, Poland, September 9, 2016. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

In September, James R. Liang, who has worked for Volkswagen VOWG_p.DE since 1983 and was part of a team of engineers who developed a diesel engine, pleaded guilty after being charged with conspiring to commit wire fraud and violating U.S. clean air laws.

Liang was scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 1, but U.S. District Judge Sean Cox in Detroit issued an order delaying the sentencing until May 3 “to allow more time for defendant’s cooperation in the investigation.”

Liang is “cooperating with the government in the investigation and the potential prosecution of others,” the court filing said.

Liang, a German citizen who lives in Newbury Park, California, was charged with conspiring with current and former VW employees to mislead the U.S. government about software that federal regulators called a “defeat device,” which allowed the automaker to sell diesel vehicles for more than six years that emitted more smog-forming gases than U.S. emission standards allow.

A lawyer for Liang did not immediately return a message seeking comment. The Justice Department and Volkswagen declined to comment.

Liang was one of the engineers in Wolfsburg, Germany, directly involved in developing the defeat device for the Volkswagen Jetta in 2006, according to the indictment. Engineers had quickly realized the diesel engines they were designing for vehicles targeted at the U.S. market could not meet government clean air standards while appealing to customers, the indictment stated.

Volkswagen has agreed to spend as much as $17.5 billion in the United States to resolve claims from owners as well as federal and state regulators over polluting diesel vehicles.

Last month, Volkswagen reached a $1 billion settlement with U.S. regulators, offering to buy back about 20,000 of 80,000 polluting luxury VW, Audi and Porsche vehicles with 3.0-liter engines. VW also agreed to fix the remaining 60,000.

Volkswagen could still spend billions of dollars more to resolve a U.S. Justice Department criminal investigation and federal and state environmental claims and come under oversight by a federal monitor.

Settlement talks have been ongoing and it is possible a deal could be reached before Jan. 20, according to sources briefed on the matter.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Tom Brown