Washington, DC (CBS) - The U.S. has reached a $1.2 billion settlement with Toyota Motor Corp. and filed a criminal charge alleging the Japanese automaker defrauded consumers by issuing misleading statements about safety issues in Toyota and Lexus vehicles.
Under the agreement, announced Wednesday by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the company will admit that it misled U.S. consumers by making deceptive statements about two safety issues affecting its vehicles. As a result, Toyota will pay a $1.2 billion financial penalty under a "deferred prosecution agreement."
"Put simply, Toyota's conduct was shameful," Holder told reporters at a press conference Wednesday.
It is the largest penalty of its kind imposed on an automotive company by the U.S., Holder said.
A Toyota spokesperson told CBS News early Wednesday that, "Toyota has cooperated with the U.S. Attorney's office in this matter for more than four years. During that time, we have made fundamental changes to become a more responsive and customer-focused organization, and we are committed to continued improvements."
The case has hinged on whether Toyota was forthright in reporting quality problems related to unintended acceleration troubles.
Starting in 2009, Toyota issued massive recalls, mostly in the U.S., totaling more than 10 million vehicles for various problems including faulty brakes, gas pedals and floor mats.
From 2010 through 2012, Toyota Motor Corp. paid fines totaling more than $66 million for delays in reporting unintended acceleration problems.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration never found defects in electronics or software in Toyota cars, which had been targeted as a possible cause by many, including some experts.