German prosecutors plan perjury probe of Lopez

July 30, 1993|By New York Times News Service

FRANKFURT, Germany -- The industrial espionage battle between Volkswagen AG and General Motors Corp. broadened yesterday as prosecutors in Hamburg announced a new investigation of Jose Ignacio Lopez de Arriortua, the VW production chief, whom GM has accused of stealing its trade secrets.

The new investigation coincided with a fresh round of mudslinging a day after Ferdinand Piech, the chairman of VW, suggested that GM might have manipulated evidence. He accused GM of waging "international economic war in order to ruin VW." GM officials rejected those contentions yesterday at a news conference in Frankfurt.

The Hamburg state prosecutor's office said it was investigating whether Mr. Lopez and some of his VW colleagues committed perjury this month in sworn testimony in the Hamburg state court. It did not identify the other suspects. In giving their version of events in the trade-secrets dispute, VW officials contradicted statements by employees of Adam Opel AG, GM's German subsidiary.

The court hearing was to determine whether Der Spiegel, Germany's most influential news magazine, had grounds to continue publishing assertions that trade secrets were stolen by Mr. Lopez and seven VW employees who followed him when he jumped from GM last spring.

The court ruled July 21 that the magazine had enough evidence to make such claims. The court overturned an injunction granted to VW that had blocked articles including the allegations.

Prosecutors in Darmstadt, Germany, as well as the U.S. Justice Department are already investigating GM's assertion that Mr. Lopez and the seven employees who left VW with him systematically gathered and stole proprietary information. The information included top-secret plans for building a new small car and a master list of prices for all parts and components used by Opel.

"The lawyers for GM drew our attention to this," said Rudiger Bagger, a spokesman for the Hamburg prosecutor's office. He was referring to a letter sent by Opel's legal department that detailed the contradictions and pointed out that because both versions could not be correct, one must be perjurious.

But Mr. Bagger warned that the investigation should not be seen as presuming guilt on Mr. Lopez's part.

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