SAO PAULO (Reuters) - The leader of a truth commission investigating abuses during Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship lambasted German automaker Volkswagen AG (VOWG.DE) at a hearing on Friday for providing what he called “unsatisfactory” testimony regarding its alleged ties with the regime.
In a contentious, nearly three hour-long session, Sao Paulo state legislator Adriano Diogo and several former Volkswagen employees pressed a company executive to explain whether and how the automaker collaborated with the right-wing regime.
Documents uncovered last year suggest that Volkswagen and dozens of other companies gave the dictatorship names, home addresses and other sensitive information regarding union activists on their payrolls in the 1980s.
The workers appeared on a so-called “black list” compiled by police. Some were then fired, detained or harassed by security forces and were unable to get new jobs for long periods afterwards, a Reuters investigation found.
Volkswagen, which had more workers on the list than any other company, was one of three companies called to testify on Friday before the Sao Paulo state commission, chaired by Diogo, a member of Brazil’s ruling Workers’ Party.
The other two companies, Brazilian industrial firms Grupo Aliperti and Cobrasma CBMA4.SA, did not send representatives.
Rogerio Varga, a manager of legal affairs for Volkswagen, said the company respected the work conducted by various truth commissions across Brazil, but it was still reviewing internal files to see whether allegations of collaboration were true.
“There is no document in any archive that has been uncovered that places the institution of Volkswagen in collaboration with any violation of human rights,” Varga said.
The information on workers on the “black list” could have been obtained by police or unions instead of provided by the companies, Varga said.
“The company has nothing to hide,” Varga said.
At the hearing’s conclusion, Diogo called Volkswagen’s testimony “absolutely unsatisfactory.”
“To come here without any kind of information, without any recognition of the role companies played, they continue to laugh in our faces,” he said.
The probe’s leaders said they would provide the information gathered on Friday to federal prosecutors. Some legal experts have said companies could face civil lawsuits or demands for reparations based on truth commissions’ discoveries, although others doubt the evidence is solid enough.
Former Volkswagen employees present also expressed frustrations. Lucio Bellentani, 70, said he was arrested inside a Volkswagen factory by police in 1972 with the aid of a senior company executive.
Bellentani, 70, said he was beaten and then taken to a jail, where he was held for more than a month.
“I’m mystified by some of the things that were said here today ... that Volkswagen never ... hurt human rights,” Bellentani said, addressing Varga. “I don’t know, I think you’re on another planet.”
Varga replied the company only learned of Bellentani’s story in December, and that it was “difficult to understand what Volkswagen’s role might have been.”
“We listen to that account with lots of respect, and we continue to search for information,” Varga said.
Editing by Ken Wills