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Volkswagen could face criminal charges in the U.S.

If Dieselgate were a three-act play, we’d be close to the end of the first act. It’s not a drama, however, and certainly not amusing to any of those involved, which in an environmental sense includes us all. It’s more like a tragedy. Volkswagen Group’s diesel engine software rigging scandal is still in the first year of resolution in a process likely to drag on for several years.

In the latest development, the United States Department of Justice has enough evidence to bring criminal charges against the automotive giant as well as individual VW employees, according to Ars Technica.

Citing a Wall Street Journal article about the DoJ’s and VW, Ars Technica reported that the decision to prosecute has not been made. The attorneys are “torn” between taking Volkswagen to court to get a guilty plea or negotiating an agreement. The prosecution agreement would drop criminal charges against the group on the condition that VW sign a separate agreement to abide by specific settlement terms.

Reuters reported that a DoJ prosecution agreement with Volkswagen could involve “an independent monitor overseeing the German automaker’s conduct and significant yet-to-be determined fines for emissions violations.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, prosecutors aren’t sure which criminal charges to file, if they do decide to go that way. Choices could include misleading both regulators and consumers.  The newspaper said it expects Volkswagen would get some leniency for the $15 billion civil settlement deal via which the German company will offer to buy back diesel vehicles with the emissions test cheating software. Additional fines could still be levied as a result of a criminal case or agreed to as part of a prosecution agreement. The expectation is that add-on fines could be greater than the $1.2 billion Toyota paid in 2014 for not disclosing acceleration problems.

Regardless of whether the DoJ takes Volkswagen Group to court, there’s still a chance it will levy criminal charges against VW employees. Civil lawsuits have been filed against two dozen VW group employees involved with the software scheme by attorneys general in Maryland, New York, and Massachusetts.

Volkswagen Group still doesn’t have a final agreement on 85,000 3.0L diesel vehicles apart from the nearly 500,000 2.0L affected by the $15 billion settlement deal. Perhaps that deal for the 3.0 liter VWs, Porsches, and Audis will arise in Act 2.