VW scorns hot tip from red light

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A strong dash of farce spiced the Lopez espionage investigation yesterday as red-faced state prosecutors conceded their raid on Volkswagen had not been such a surprise after all.

That much should have been obvious from the three television crews on hand early on Thursday morning to film the 60 state prosecutors, police and computer experts as they swooped on VW in search of documents allegedly stolen from General Motors. The word had got out via the Frankfurt underworld. Loose talk by a police officer, now suspended from duty, at a shooting club meeting that he would be unavailable on 26 August because 'we'll all be at VW' was overheard. Two men, described as coming from the Frankfurt red-light milieu, telephoned VW's public affairs department on Tuesday offering a 'hot tip' in return for DM500,000 ( pounds 200,000). Not wanting to risk putting a foot wrong again, VW immediately informed the police. At a motorway service station on Tuesday night the two individuals were arrested by police as they went to the rendezvous with Volkswagen.

VW said it never learnt of the timing of the raid, and yesterday Georg Nauth, speaking for the Darmstadt prosecutors' office, denied that the purpose of the search had at any stage been endangered.

He failed, however, to explain why the television crews knew of the raid beforehand. A VW spokesman said that 'the impression of things being stage-managed for reality TV does nothing to further the course of justice'. The government of the state of Lower Saxony, which is the main shareholder in VW, expressed surprise at the 'unusual circumstances' of the raid. 'The Darmstadt prosecutors' office appears to be as full of holes as a Swiss cheese,' it said.

Prosecutors ended their searches yesterday, stating that 'business papers in large quantities were seized, as well as large numbers of data carriers (diskettes and between 20 and 30 PCs, including laptops)'. The Darmstadt prosecutors' office has been investigating charges that VW's number two, Jose Ignacio Lopez de Arriortua, and other former employees of General Motors took confidential documents with them when they moved to Volkswagen since May.

The search focused on the private homes and offices of Mr Lopez and his former GM colleagues, as well as the purchasing department in VW's headquarters, the company's Rothehof guesthouse, and its marketing and management institute in Braunschweig.