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A former Audi executive has been charged in federal court with conspiracy to defraud the United States and wire fraud for his role in parent company Volkswagen AG's efforts to rig hundreds of thousands of diesel vehicles to cheat U.S. emission standards.

The U.S. District Court in Detroit said Thursday that Zaccheo Giovanni Pamio, who is Audi’s former department manager of thermodynamics and exhaust gas aftertreatment in Germany,  is being charged with those offenses, and with making false statements about U.S. Clean Air Act.

According to the complaint, Pamio led a team of engineers responsible for designing emissions control systems to meet emissions standards, including for nitrogen oxides.

The complaint said that after Pamio and others realized that it was impossible to calibrate a diesel engine that would meet nitrogen emissions standards, he directed Audi employees to design software functions to cheat the U.S. emissions tests.

Attorneys for the U.S. accused Pamio of “knowingly participating in a conspiracy,” which lasted from about 2006 to at least November 2015. Pamio, 60, is a citizen of Italy.

“Volkswagen continues to cooperate with investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice into the conduct of individuals,” Audi said in a statement Thursday. “It would not be appropriate to comment on any ongoing investigations or to discuss personnel matters.”

Audi’s parent company, Volkswagen, has been under fire from U.S. regulators since the company admitted to programming its diesel cars to trick emissions testers into believing the engines released far less pollution into the air than they actually do, in violation of the federal Clean Air Act. Regulators have said that in normal driving they emitted up to 40 times more smog-causing nitrogen oxide than the legal limit.

In addition to the charges facing Pamio, the U.S. government has indicted six present and former Volkswagen executives and charged the company with three criminal felony counts for what regulators called a 10-year conspiracy to rig hundreds of thousands of diesel cars to cheat U.S. emission standards. The polluting diesels were sold under Volkswagen’s main brand as well as the Audi and Porsche brands.

Volkswagen is being forced to pay $2.8 billion in criminal fines and $1.5 billion in civil penalties related to the fraud. In addition to the fines, the beleaguered German automaker has agreed to pay $14.7 billion to fix or buy back about 475,000 rigged 2-liter diesel vehicles on top of the $1.2 billion 3-liter deal that is likely to be approved by Breyer.

The emission-cheating scheme has cost Volkswagen more than $20 billion in fines and settlements, in addition to goodwill among some U.S. drivers.

klaing@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8735

Twitter: @Keith_Laing

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