Alleging espionage, GM sues VW German rival calls charges 'unfounded'

March 09, 1996|By BLOOMBERG BUSINESS NEWS

Tired of waiting for its day in court in Germany, General Motors Corp. sued German rival Volkswagen AG for industrial espionage in a U.S. court.

GM and its German unit, Adam Opel AG, sued for unspecified damages, claiming they suffered "serious economic damage" when GM's former purchasing chief, Jose Ignacio Lopez de Arriortua, defected to VW in 1993.

The company filed the lawsuit Thursday night in U.S. District Court in Detroit after concluding that German criminal investigations wouldn't be finished before the statute of limitations expires at the end of this month, GM officials said.

GM charges that Lopez and seven other GM employees who left with him gained access to GM corporate secrets that they used at VW.

VW called the charges "unfounded." It said it will seek to have GM's complaint dismissed.

Opel said it will specify the amount of the damages sought later.

German media reports have put the figure at 1.5 billion German marks.

GM Opel Chief Executive David Herman accused Mr. Lopez and Volkswagen of "having planned, prepared and carried out the taking of valuable trade secrets from Opel and GM since 1992."

In particular, GM said, after meeting with VW Chief Executive Ferdinand Piech and before leaving GM, Mr. Lopez obtained a top-secret list of suppli- ers' names, prices and parts specifications.

Volkswagen committed further unlawful actions since hiring Mr. Lopez, including covering up the actions, destroying the evidence and obstructing the criminal investigation, GM said.

VW said in a statement that it has cooperated with German investigators and allowed independent auditors to conduct a detailed review.

"It was established that there was no evidence of the receipt or use by Volkswagen of secret documents or data from GM/Opel," the company said.

GM shares fell $1.625 to $50.875 yesterday.

VW shares dropped 4 percent after the news and closed at 542 marks per share, down 17.5 marks or 3.1 percent.

Pub Date: 3/09/96

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