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VW, Torture and Brazil's Dictatorship

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VW's past is coming back to haunt it.

As if Volkswagen didn’t have enough troubles with its Dieselgate scandal, a group of German journalists released a report Monday alleging that the company’s Brazilian subsidiary cooperated with the military dictatorship over two decades by spying on employees and reporting regime opponents to the police.

The report, compiled by a joint investigation from Hamburg-based broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk, Stuttgart-based radio channel Südwestrundfunk as well as the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in Munich, said VW’s local subsidiary, Volkswagen do Brasil, took part in the persecution of the regime’s political opponents over a period stretching from 1964 to 1985.

Most of the allegation are not new, but came out in lawsuits filed against Volkswagen two years ago. At least 12 employees said they were tortured at the company’s factory. The company said it would not comment on the study and said it is awaiting the results of an investigation that it commissioned from German historian Christopher Kopper. It said the historian’s study was expected later this year.

According to the journalists, VW’s board of directors were aware of human rights abuses at the factory as long ago as 1979...

According to the journalists, the security department at Volkswagen’s sprawling complex in San Bernardo do Campo was transformed into an intelligence agency that spied on its own employees, including some workers who were arrested on VW’s premises and later tortured.

According to the journalists, VW’s board of directors were aware of human rights abuses at the factory as long ago as 1979, when a delegation of Brazilian employees traveled to Germany to meet with company officials. German government officials were also made aware of the abuses.

A report by the country’s national truth commission in 2014 detailed some of the torture of VW employees who had leftist political leanings.

The new allegations come at a time when Volkswagen is still reeling from a scandal over charges in the United States that the company intentionally altered its diesel cars’ software to appear to show that they met emissions guidelines, when in fact they were producing up 40 times the legal limit of pollution. The company pled guilty to a conspiracy to defraud the US government and was fined $2.8 billion (€2.4 billion) and paid another $1.5 billion (€1.28 billion) in civil fines.

When the diesel scandal first erupted, many in the company were deeply embarrassed when news reports showed Adolf Hitler at VW headquarters admiring Germany’s first “people’s car.”

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