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Detroit — A former Volkswagen executive sentenced to seven years for his role in the automaker’s emissions cheating scandal is expected to leave federal prison more than two years early and be transferred to his native Germany.

A federal magistrate in Detroit could sign paperwork approving the extradition of Oliver Schmidt, 51, on Thursday, according to a notice filed in federal court. Schmidt filed a request two years ago to finish his sentence in Germany and there does not appear to be any public opposition.

The extradition would transfer custody of an auto executive serving the longest sentence issued in arguably the largest and most expensive conspiracy in the global auto industry’s history. Schmidt's transfer also comes as Germany is expected to send to the U.S. another high-ranking auto executive, Audi engineering manager Axel Eiser, who was captured last month in Croatia. Eiser is facing federal charges in Detroit related to the scandal. 

The legal drama is unfolding five years after the diesel emissions scandal emerged and as several former VW executives have not been brought to justice in the U.S., including former CEO Martin Winterkorn.

Schmidt's lawyer could not be reached for comment and a spokeswoman with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit declined comment. A VW spokesman did not respond to a message seeking comment Friday.

Schmidt, who is being held at the federal prison in Milan, Mich., is expected to attend the video conference Thursday in federal court. The event is a consent verification extradition hearing and is being held to ensure Schmidt consents to going back to Germany and understands the consequences.

The transfer is part of the Justice Department's International Prisoner Transfer unit, which oversees the transfer of prisoners between countries. Under terms of a treaty, Germany would assume responsibility for the rest of Schmidt's sentence.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined comment about Schmidt's case.

Last year, Justice Department officials approved requests from less than 47% of the 1,277 prisoners who applied for transfer, according to federal statistics.

Former VW engineer James Liang also applied to have his 40-month sentence transferred to Germany in 2018. It was unclear Friday whether his request was granted; Liang was released from prison in November.

Inmates typically have to wait more than three months to return to their home country after an extradition hearing. There could be a prolonged delay due to foreign travel restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is unclear whether Schmidt would remain jailed in Germany or released from custody. 

"Once the prisoner is transferred to another country, the completion of the transferred offender's sentence is carried out in accordance with the laws and procedures of the receiving country, including those governing the reduction of the term of confinement by parole, conditional release, or otherwise," according to the Justice Department's website.

Schmidt was sentenced and fined $400,000 in December 2017 after pleading guilty to two charges in Volkswagen’s scheme to rig nearly 600,000 diesel cars to evade U.S. pollution standards.

Schmidt worked at the German automaker’s Auburn Hills offices from 2012 to February 2015, and was arrested in Florida for his alleged involvement in what came to be known as Dieselgate. He had a base salary of $130,000, received bonuses of at least $40,000, and had a net worth over $1 million.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @robertsnellnews

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