Court rejects GM ban on Lopez seven: Frankfurt judge dismisses claim that Volkswagen operated massive poaching campaign

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The Independent Online
AN ATTEMPT by General Motors to win a temporary employment ban against seven former employees who moved to Volkswagen was rejected in a Frankfurt court yesterday.

Judge Gunther Kinnel dismissed the arguments by GM's European subsidiary, Opel, that VW's hiring of the seven executives was part of a systematic, massive poaching campaign, which amounted to unfair competition.

The seven men went to Volkswagen in the immediate aftermath of the controversial departure from General Motors of Jose Ignacio Lopez de Arriortua, now number two at VW.

The judge's decision followed an earlier summary ruling that the seven so-called Lopez warriors were attracted by the Spaniard's charisma rather than any sinister plot by VW. The court said it was not convinced that VW had hired the seven in order to damage GM.

Mr Lopez himself was not an issue in this civil case, which was separate from criminal investigations, one in Germany and another in the United States, into allegations that he took massive amounts of secret company material with him when he moved to VW.

In support of its court request for a two-year employment ban on the seven men, Opel had, however, portrayed VW's hiring campaign against the background of alleged industrial espionage. VW sought yesterday to turn Opel's tactics against itself, arguing that the civil court ruling cleared Mr Lopez's name.

'This decision confirms what we have always said: that no one has stolen any trade secrets, and that no one used any,' Jurgen Kicker, VW's lawyer, said. The judge was more circumspect. He said of the industrial espionage claims: 'In the context of this case, it was debatable whether the charges are justified by the facts.'

Opel lawyers pointed out that in reaching yesterday's verdict, the court had not seen any of the material collected during the lengthy criminal investigations by the Darmstadt prosecutors' office in Germany or the FBI in the US. An Opel spokesman said yesterday's setback did not dim hopes of winning an eventual criminal case against Mr Lopez.

Despite presenting evidence that VW had tried to hire as many as 28 GM executives but only recruited seven, Opel had always known its chances of winning an employment ban were minimal. By granting Opel victory, the court would have set a highly controversial precedent as to what constitutes unfair competition in hiring, with unforeseeable consequences for the German business community.

The reluctance to take such a step may have outweighed any arguments Opel could muster. The judge ruled that Opel must pay four fifths of the case costs, and VW the rest.

(Photograph omitted)