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VW worked with Brazil's military dictatorship

July 24, 2017

The scandals at VW seemingly never end, but this time its problems are from the more distant past. During Brazil's military dictatorship, the company apparently helped the regime persecute opponents.

Brasilien 60 Jahre VW
Image: Volkswagen do Brasil

The accusations are not new, but have resurfaced through a new investigation done by a group of German news organizations. According to the group, Germany's largest car manufacturer,  Volkswagen, was an active participant in the persecution and oppression of political opponents of Brazil's military dictatorship that was in power from 1964 to 1985.

The company's Brazilian subsidiary, Volkswagen do Brasil, which has been active in the country since the early 1950s, is accused of spying on some workers and looking into their political convictions, information that was then handed over to the police.

The department in charge of factory security at the VW site in Sao Bernardo do Campo mutated into an intelligence service whose aim was to spy on the company's own workforce, according to the report in the "Süddeutsche Zeitung." Volkswagen employees also created "black lists" of oppositional supporters. Suspect employees were even arrested on the company premises, some were tortured.

VW is staying quiet

Volkswagen has not commented on the allegations. Instead it pointed to an expert assessment which the company commissioned historian Christopher Kopper to write on its role during the military dictatorship. The report which was initiated in fall 2016 should be finished by the end of this year.

Bildergalerie Brasilien 60 Jahre VW
Volkswagen's Beetle in BrazilImage: Volkswagen do Brasil

In advance of its release, Kopper himself has said that there was regular cooperation between VW's Brazilian factory security service and the police.

The German government was not in the dark

In 2015, activists and former Volkswagen employees in Brazil publicly accused the company of allowing persecution of regime opponents.

According to the German news organizations, Brazil's federal prosecutor is looking into Volkswagen's role to see if there were "violations of human rights within the factory premises at the time of the military dictatorship." 

The report also claims that the VW board of directors was aware of the allegations as early as 1979. At that time, Brazilian employees traveled to the company headquarters in Wolfsburg to report the allegations to then CEO Toni Schmücker.

The German government was also informed. In 1976, a member of parliament asked the foreign ministry for an opinion on the alleged mass arrests, according to the newspaper. Furthermore, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt had been informed by the former trade union leader and later President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva about the conditions at VW during a visit in 1979.

tr/hg (Süddeutsche Zeitung, AFP, dpa)