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In legal battle with GM, Volkswagen tries to improve public image

January 3, 1997

BONN, Germany (AP) _ Smarting from allegations that Volkswagen stole secrets from General Motors, VW is using an old face _ from ancient Rome _ as it tries to put forward a new one.

In a new advertisement that appeared in Thursday’s Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, Volkswagen borrowed a phrase from the Roman poet Seneca to defend itself: ``The other side must also be heard.″

Volkswagen refused to discuss the ad. Kurt Rippholz, a VW spokesman, did not return repeated telephone calls to his office Thursday and Friday.

However, GM spokesman John Mueller said: ``If this is intended by VW to begin a new, more reasonable PR approach to the (legal) matter, we welcome it.″

The ad appears to be an attempt by VW to improve its image in the midst of a fierce legal battle with General Motors. GM claims its former purchasing chief, Jose Ignacio Lopez, took confidential files with him when he defected to VW in 1993. GM and its German subsidiary, Adam Opel AG, have filed a lawsuit against Volkswagen in Detroit that could cost VW a fortune if GM wins.

German prosecutors last month indicted Lopez and three other former GM managers who went with him to VW on criminal charges of stealing GM secrets.

VW has rankled GM with the manner in which it has denied any wrongdoing.

Three years ago, VW chairman Ferdinand Piech implied that GM computer hackers covertly put GM data into VW computers.

Karl Kocks, VW’s chief spokesman, made a startling remark last month warning GM not to play the ``Jewish card″ by bringing Volkswagen’s Nazi origins into the battle. He later insisted he did not mean to suggest the American news media are controlled by Jews.

The new VW ad doesn’t even mention GM or Lopez.

Seneca’s maxim is written in Latin at the top of the modest one-column ad. Beneath it is the German translation.

Down below, VW says Seneca’s principle ``also protects those who appear guilty in the public eye.″

``The whole truth must come to light,″ it concludes.

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