FBI quizzes two Volkswagen directors

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The Independent Online
THE Federal Bureau of Investigation has spoken to two board members of Volkswagen in connection with allegations of industrial espionage against Jose Ignacio Lopez de Arriortua, the company's production chief.

The German car maker confirmed yesterday that Jens Neumann, the board member in charge of company strategy who was also head of personnel at the time of Mr Lopez's switch from General Motors, appeared last Friday before officials of the US Department of Justice. It added that FBI investigators were also present at the hearing.

A Grand Jury is already investigating suspicions that Mr Lopez, who was worldwide purchasing chief for General Motors, took confidential company documents with him when he went to VW in March 1993.

The allegations are also the focus of another criminal investigation in Germany being undertaken by the state prosecutors' office in Darmstadt, which is collaborating with the FBI. Volkswagen also said that Ulrich Seiffert, the company's board member in charge of development, had been approached by the FBI at the Detroit Motor Show earlier this month and asked to appear before Department of Justice investigators.

A VW spokesman said Mr Seiffert would return to the US soon for questioning, adding that Mr Seiffert and Mr Neumann might, as a result of their statements, have to appear before the Grand Jury. Mr Neumann was reported by VW to have told the US authorities that documents or secrets belonging to GM formed no part of the discussions with Mr Lopez prior to his move to VW, nor did any such documents reach the German company.

The company denied that Ferdinand Piech, VW's chief executive, and Mr Lopez chose not to attend the Detroit Motor Show because of concern about going to the US while the investigations were being conducted.