Volkswagen orders independent inquiry

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VOLKSWAGEN has commissioned an independent group to investigate whether secret documents from its rival General Motors were brought to VW by former GM employees.

Volkswagen, said its own internal investigation had found no such documents, but the debate surrounding its embattled production chief, Jose Ignacio Lopez de Arriortua, made a 'neutral investigation' necessary.

'This decision should ensure that the company can concentrate on its real task - making competitive cars,' VW said in a statement.

VW said the supervisory board and the management board decided at a meeting last night to have the accounting firm KPMG Deutsche Treuhand carry out an independent investigation.

Earlier yesterday it said it would no longer comment on details surrounding the allegations that Mr Lopez and several former GM employees who followed him to VW had stolen documents from GM and its German unit Adam Opel.

Other reports last night said that the US Justice Department had stepped up its investigation of the allegations and that it had demanded to see all GM documents relating to the case.

Mr Lopez has denied the charges but has admitted destroying documents that could have been sensitive before his arrival at VW in March to prevent their distribution at VW.

Public prosecutors in Darmstadt are investigating allegations of industrial espionage against Mr Lopez brought by his former employer.

They said on Thursday that they had received a statement about the matter from a VW secretary. In an earlier television news programme the secretary was reported to have said she was instructed by Mr Lopez to input data about Opel into the VW computer system.

Global car deliveries for the VW group, including Volkswagen, Audi, Seat and Skoda, fell 13 per cent in January-June 1993, compared with the same period a year earlier.

A spokesman said a slight improvement in orders in the last six months would only be seen in the August/September delivery figures because of a six to eight weeks lag on shipments. VW was hoping for a good performance from new models being launched in the autumn.