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US judge approves US$14.7 billion settlement over VW diesel vehicles

[WASHINGTON] A US federal judge on Tuesday approved Volkswagen AG's record-setting US$14.7 billion settlement with regulators and owners of 475,000 polluting diesel vehicles, and the German automaker said it would begin buying back the vehicles in mid-November.

The action by US District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco marked the latest development in a scandal that has rocked VW since it admitted in September 2015 using secret software in its diesel cars to cheat exhaust emissions tests and make them appear cleaner than they really were.

Under the settlement, Volkswagen agreed to spend up to US$10.033 billion on the buybacks and owner compensation and US$4.7 billion on programs to offset excess emissions and boost zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and other clean vehicle projects.

The affected vehicles emit up to 40 times legally allowable pollution levels. Volkswagen may also be allowed to repair vehicles if regulators approve fixes.

In total, Volkswagen has agreed to date to spend up to US$16.5 billion in connection with the diesel emissions scandal, including payments to dealers, states and attorneys for owners. The scandal rattled VW's global business, harmed its reputation and prompted the ouster of its CEO.

The world's second-largest automaker still faces billions more in costs to address 85,000 polluting 3.0 liter vehicles and US Justice Department fines for violating clean air laws. It also faces lawsuits from at least 16 US states for additional claims that could hike the company's overall costs.