James Liang, an engineer accused in Volkswagen's "dieselgate" scandal, has been sentenced to 40 months in prison and strapped with a $200,000 fine. US district court judge Sean Cox is said to have handed a heavy sentence in order to deter other engineers and automobile companies from committing such acts of "stunning fraud on the American consumer".

Liang faced a five-year sentence under federal guidelines, but prosecutors recommended that the 63-year-old former Volkswagen engineer be given a three-year sentence, Reuters reported. This was considering Liang had pleaded guilty to the charges and had cooperated with the investigation into the case.

Liang, who still works at VW but not as an engineer can appeal against the sentence.

VW pleaded guilty in March this year to three charges of felony under an agreement to resolve the criminal probe it faced in the US.

Liang's lawyer pleaded that he be given a lighter sentence arguing that he was not the mastermind behind the scandal and was simply carrying out orders under, "misguided loyalty". The federal prosecutor, however, noted that Liang was a pivotal figure in the case and that a prison sentence would prove to be a powerful deterrent to the automobile industry.

The dieselgate emissions scandal rocked the automobile industry in September 2015 when it came to light that VW was using illegal software to hoodwink regulators into believing it complied with emission control guidelines. Researchers at the University of West Virginia were the first to find out that the company's diesel engines were emitting up to 40 times more pollutants when on the road than during testing because a workaround allowed it to conceal emissions during checks.

The company admitted to knowing about this and intentionally hiding details of their actions from regulators. This eventually led to the resignation of VW US CEO Michael Horn in March 2016.

In January this year, US courts directed Volkswagen to pay a $4.3bn (£3.3bn) fine and six former VW executives and managers, including three former heads of engine development, were indicted. This was following the company agreeing upon a $15bn settlement with the EPA and VW dieselgate affected car owners.

Oliver Schmidt, another VW executive who is scheduled to be sentenced on 6 December, is facing up to seven years in prison and fines of up to $400,000.

VW Dieselgate
Dieselgate has affected 500,000 cars in the US aloneJEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty Images