File picture: Fabian Bimmer / Reuters.
INTERNATIONAL - A US based Volkswagen (VW) executive who oversaw emissions issues was sentenced to seven years in prison and fined $400000 (R5.5million) by a judge on Wednesday for his role in a diesel emissions scandal that has cost the German carmaker as much as $30billion.

The prison sentence and fine for the executive, Oliver Schmidt, were the maximum possible under a plea deal in August the German national made with prosecutors after admitting to charges of conspiring to mislead US regulators and violate clean-air laws.

“It is my opinion that you are a key conspirator in this scheme to defraud the US,” US District Judge Sean Cox of Detroit told Schmidt in court.

“You saw this as your opportunity to shine and climb the corporate ladder at VW.”

Schmidt has read a written statement in court in which he acknowledged his guilt and broke down when discussing his family’s sacrifices on his behalf since his arrest in January.

“I made bad decisions and for that I am sorry,” he said.

US Department of Justice trial attorney Benjamin Singer argued in court that Schmidt was “part of the decision making process” at VW to hide a scheme to fake vehicle emissions results and had opportunities to tell regulators the truth.

“Every time he chose to lie,” Singer said.

In March, VW pleaded guilty to three felony counts under a plea agreement to resolve US charges that it installed secret software in vehicles in order to elude emissions tests.

US prosecutors have charged eight current and former VW executives. Six of those remain at large.