Ex-Ford chiefs charged over torture of unionists in Argentina's 'dirty war'

Former executives charged over 1976 kidnap and torture of unionists in prosecutions focusing on corporate support for Argentine dictators

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 May, 2015, 4:38pm


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Three former Ford Motor executives were charged with crimes against humanity for allegedly targeting Argentinian union workers for kidnapping and torture after the country's 1976 military coup.

All three men are now in their eighties. Their case is part of a new wave of prosecutions focusing on corporate support for the dictators who ran Argentina from 1976 to 1983.

A 150-page indictment issued by Judge Alicia Vence reads like a history lesson, going to considerable lengths to explain why their actions constitute crimes against humanity and why it has taken nearly four decades to result in criminal charges.

Factory director Pedro Muller, human resources chief Guillermo Galarraga and security manager Hector Francisco Jesus Sibilla are accused of giving names, identity numbers, pictures and home addresses to security forces who hauled two dozen union workers off the floor of Ford's factory in Buenos Aires to be tortured and interrogated and then sent to military prisons.

All three were ordered to stay under house arrest on bail of about US$142,000 each. Galarraga and Sibilla are Argentine and Muller is described as a Czech national.

Ford Argentina said it was aware of the charges against the men but could not comment because the issue remained under judicial investigation.

The judge said the executives sought to eliminate union resistance at Ford's Argentina unit. They clearly had inside information about the coming "dirty war" in which so-called subversives would be thrown into clandestine detention centres.

She described a meeting the day after the March 24, 1976 coup in which Galarraga told union leaders to "forget any kind of labour complaints" and all their problems would be resolved.

Witnesses recalled that union leader Juan Carlos Amoroso then asked about talks over money that workers said had been systematically removed from their pay cheques. Galarraga laughed and said, "Amoroso, give my greetings to Camps," the judge wrote, a reference to a general, Ramon Camps.

At the time, Camps was a little-known figure. But named police chief of Buenos Aires province by the military junta, Camps soon ran a system of clandestine detention centres where thousands of people were taken for torture and summary execution.