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Mercedes Not Responsible for Missing

December 8, 2003

STUTTGART, Germany (AP) _ A team of investigators found no evidence that carmaker Mercedes-Benz instigated the disappearance of 10 company workers in Argentina during the country’s ``dirty war,″ according to a report released Monday by parent DaimlerChrysler.

The company commissioned the outside investigation last year in an effort to put to rest persistent accusations that managers at subsidiary Mercedes-Benz Argentina used the terror unleashed by the country’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship to intimidate its workers.

``There is no evidence to support the thesis that the 10 workers who disappeared during the military dictatorship in 1976 and 1977 were kidnapped and murdered by the state security apparatus at the behest of the company’s management,″ said the report, issued days after prosecutors in the southern city of Nuremberg dropped a criminal probe against the now-retired head of the Mercedes-Benz factory outside Buenos Aires, Juan Tasselkraut.

Some 9,000 people were kidnapped and killed during the dictatorship, including trade unionists, left-wing political activists, journalists, and intellectuals.

Berlin law professor Christian Tomuschat’s three-member team interviewed witnesses and reviewed statements given by victims and others to Argentine investigators.

While it found no evidence of Mercedes-Benz Argentina managers urging the state to kidnap workers, it said that there were ``contacts between MBA and the state security service.″

In one such case, the report said, the company’s assessment of a worker as an agitator wound up in security service files.

The worker, employee representative Esteban Alfredo Reimer, was kidnapped by unidentified men shortly after participating in a tense 15-hour negotiating session with management and never seen again. Another negotiator from that session, Victor Hugo Ventura, also disappeared.

``Reimer was suspected by the company as a troublemaker, and this suspicion came to the knowledge of the security forces,″ the report said. But it adds that the contacts that moved the security forces to act against the men ``could have come from anyone in the company, in particular from an informant.″

Suggestions that there may have been a conscious effort to use the government to intimidate workers are undermined by the fact that only two of the 10 workers who vanished were labor activists, the report said.

Some reports about the cases have identified 14 disappeared workers, but Tomuschat said at a news conference in Stuttgart that only 10 of them were working for the company at the time they were kidnapped.

The disappearances came against a background of tension between Mercedes-Benz workers and management both before and after the 1976 military takeover.

During an unauthorized 22-day strike in 1975 that came as inflation soared to 125 percent, 117 workers were fired and the plant manager was kidnapped and held for two months by suspected leftist guerrillas.

Tomuschat said evidence also didn’t support an accusations against factory director Tasselkraut that he supplied the address used by security forces to find and seize worker Diego Nunez.

The allegation was made by another worker, Hector Anibal Ratto, a prominent witness to the terror because he was one of the few to survive custody, the report said.

DaimlerChrysler hired Tomuschat after discussions with Amnesty International, which recommended it carry out an independent report and suggested the Berlin professor. Tomuschat served on a commission that looked into human rights violations and killings in Guatemala’s 36-year civil war.

``One can assume that with the publication of the report, this chapter is closed as far as DaimlerChrysler is concerned,″ Amnesty spokesman Nils Geissler said in Berlin.

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