VW 'spy' case turns into car chase: GM admits to employing detectives to trail Jose Lopez

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The Independent Online
UNDER the cosh for 14 months over allegations of industrial espionage by its Spanish production chief, Volkswagen yesterday leapt on to the offensive after General Motors conceded that private detectives had been trailing the VW number two and several colleagues, writes John Eisenhammer.

GM suspects Jose Ignacio Lopez, its former global purchasing chief, and several close associates of having stolen large amounts of company information before switching to VW in March 1993. Criminal investigations are under way on both sides of the Atlantic, but no charges have yet been laid.

Claiming that the use of private detectives is normal in white-collar crime, GM's European subsidiary, Adam Opel, said the state prosecutors had been fully informed. But it could not disguise its embarrassment over reports of an attractive female agent feigning a bicycle puncture outside the home of a Lopez associate. To add to the farce, she was then asked out to dinner.

An indignant VW accused Adam Opel of dirty tricks and all manner of skullduggery, even implying deliberate deception. German prosecutors recently confirmed that quantities of confidential GM/Opel material had been identified in the homes and offices of senior VW managers, including Mr Lopez.

It appears the car giants were for months embroiled in clandestine cat-and-mouse activities, with VW's security force chasing Opel's private detectives who were shadowing Mr Lopez.

In a lengthy statement, VW pointedly asked whether the fact that television crews were on hand last August to film a supposedly secret dawn police raid on VW headquarters had anything to do with Opel's undercover activities.

VW drew attention to the dismissal of a police officer from the Mainz city force which had led the August raid. The officer was sacked for confusing his police work with the private activities of his wife's detective agency, the one hired by Opel's lawyers.