NEW YORK — Trying to move past the biggest safety scandal in its history, General Motors has agreed to pay $900 million to resolve criminal charges for concealing an ignition-switch defect linked to at least 169 deaths, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Despite evidence that the automaker’s legal and engineering staffs hushed up the problem, no charges were brought against any employees, although U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara did not rule out the possibility and said the investigation is still going on.

Also on Thursday, GM announced that it will spend $575 million to settle the bulk of the civil lawsuits filed over the scandal.

Under the deal with prosecutors, an independent monitor will be appointed to oversee GM’s handling of safety defects. Two criminal charges drawn up against GM – wire fraud and scheming to conceal information from government regulators – will be dropped after three years if the automaker cooperates fully.

“They let the public down. It’s as simple as that,” Bharara said. “To sum it up, they didn’t tell the truth in the best way that they should have – to the regulators, to the public – about this serious safety issue that risked life and limb.”

The statement of facts to which the company agreed describes in scathing terms GM’s deceitful and dismissive approach to handling a defect that was evident even before the switch went into production in 2002.

The twin agreements bring to more than $5.3 billion the amount GM has spent on a problem prosecutors say could have been dealt with at a cost of less than $1 per car. Those expenses include government fines, compensation for victims and the recall and repair of millions of vehicles.

With the settlements, GM is taking a big step toward moving past the scandal, which badly damaged its reputation but led to companywide safety reforms.

GM chief executive Mary Barra appeared before employees in suburban Detroit and again apologized to the victims of crashes caused by the bad switch.

“We didn’t do our job,” she said. “We accept the penalties handed down today, because that’s what it means to be held accountable.”

Consumer advocate Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Automotive Safety, bitterly criticized the settlement with the Justice Department.

“GM killed over 100 people by knowingly putting a defective ignition switch into over 1 million vehicles,” Ditlow said. “Today, thanks to its lobbyists, GM officials walk off scot-free while its customers are 6 feet under.”

GM was given credit for cooperating with the investigation, including sharing the results of its in-house probe.

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