BERLIN (AP) _ Sometime between a meeting with the Volkswagen chairman and an overnight defection from General Motors, Jose Ignacio Lopez hatched a plan to steal GM secrets to give his new employer a competitive edge, according to his criminal indictment.

In addition to thousands of pages of documents and computer diskettes loaded with data that Lopez is charged with stealing, the prized executive took with him seven GM managers when he left in March 1993.

Three of the men also were charged in the indictment announced Friday. All four could face up to five years in jail if convicted.

Prosecutors in the southern city of Darmstadt said the accused men set up shop in an office in Wolfsburg, where VW is based, and went to work transcribing documents that they used to prepare presentations to Volkswagen executives.

The indictment supports the main points of General Motors' allegations that its former purchasing chief and other former GM managers conspired to steal company secrets. Also charged were Jose Manuel Gutierrez, Jorge Alvarez and Rosario Piazza.

In Detroit, an attorney for the four filed a motion Friday to postpone further action against Lopez and Gutierrez in the civil lawsuit GM filed last March in U.S. District Court. Attorney Plato Cacheris said he will file a similar motion on behalf of Alvarez and Piazza on Jan. 10.

Cacheris wants action in the civil case delayed for the four defendants until the criminal charges are resolved. Volkswagen, its U.S. subsidiary and several VW executives also are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Despite GM allegations that VW executives also were part of the conspiracy, German prosecutors said that Lopez apparently came up with the plan to steal the documents on his own sometime after a November 1992 meeting with VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech.

The prosecutors said there was no evidence to suggest complicity on the part of any VW executive.

VW, which has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, issued a short statement Friday saying that the prosecutors' statements indicated ``no involvement by VW management, no access by VW to GM or Opel documents, no conspiratorial cooperation within VW and no damages to GM or Opel.''

German prosecutors also said they could not calculate potential losses to GM or its German subsidiary, Adam Opel AG. GM has not specified the amount of damages it is seeking in the civil lawsuit, but market estimates have been as high as $5 billion if VW loses.

Darmstadt prosecutors said their 3 1/2-year investigation produced evidence that Lopez and the others had stolen files containing, among other data, GM cost analyses, plans for a super-efficient manufacturing plant known as ``Plant X,'' and suppliers' price lists.

``The accused planned to acquire business documents from the research, planning, production, and purchasing departments with a view toward their planned joint move to VW,'' chief prosecutor Gerhard Andres said in Darmstadt.

Lopez, who was about to be named GM's chief of North American operations when he defected, is given much of the credit for Volkswagen's recent turnaround, and VW has been reluctant to sever ties with him _ one of GM's conditions for initiating talks aimed at settling the civil suit.

He officially resigned Nov. 30, but VW said it would continue to pay his salary, fund his defense, and hoped to employ him as a consultant.