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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ex-GM Exec Accused of Spying




DETROIT -- A former senior executive at General Motors has been indicted, accused of defrauding the automaker by taking boxes of its confidential documents with him when he jumped to a top job at Volkswagen in 1993. The indictment, announced Monday, revives one of the most celebrated cases in recent years involving accusations of industrial espionage.


The six-count indictment by a federal grand jury in Detroit accuses Jose Ignacio Lopez de Arriortua, GM's former vice president for worldwide purchasing, of wire fraud and the interstate transportation of stolen property. The U.S. Justice Department asserted that Lopez copied extensive GM computer files on auto parts costs and future car models and took them to VW when he took the top purchasing job there.


Lopez's longtime lawyer, Plato Cacheris, said Lopez denied breaking any American laws but would not come to the United States to defend himself. And while the Justice Department said Monday that it would seek Lopez's extradition from Spain, Cacheris said Spain's extradition treaty with the United States did not allow Spanish citizens like Lopez to be extradited against their will.


"This is a case that is a waste of time and money; he will never be tried," Cacheris said.


The State Department and the Spanish Embassy had no comment Monday evening on how or whether the extradition treaty might apply to Lopez. Many such treaties limit the extradition of a country's own citizens to stand trial, particularly on charges of nonviolent crimes, for which countries' laws may differ considerably.


The United States on rare occasions has been able to persuade foreign governments to extradite people even if their cases are not clearly covered by an extradition treaty. But such a move would be politically difficult for Spain. Lopez left Volkswagen three years ago and has been working ever since as an auto consultant in Bilbao, the industrial center of Spain's economically depressed Basque region. Lopez has tried with little success to start his own auto company in his Basque hometown of Amorebieta, partly as a way to reduce unemployment there.


Soon after Lopez's surprise resignation and departure to Volkswagen on March 15, 1993, GM executives became concerned about the large volume of confidential documents that he and his assistants had requested in the four preceding months. GM ended up suing VW, accusing it of having used the documents. VW settled the civil case in January 1997, agreeing to pay GM $100 million but not admitting any wrongdoing; Lopez had resigned from VW two months earlier.


German prosecutors had also filed charges against Lopez accusing him of having stolen GM documents, but dropped the charges in July 1998, after he agreed to make charitable contributions totaling 400,000 Deutsche marks, worth $224,000 at the time.


GM cautiously welcomed the announcement of the indictment. "Obviously, these are decisions with which we agree and we will continue, as we have in the past, to provide support to the Justice Department in connection with their handling of this matter," the automaker said in a statement. "We will not, however, comment on the specific charges contained in the indictment.''


VW officials did not return calls requesting comment.


In Monday's announcement, the Justice Department revealed that the grand jury had actually returned the indictment last October under seal. The Justice Department did not reveal why the indictment was unsealed Monday, other than to note that a formal extradition request would soon be made to Spain.