February 26, 2015 / 4:46 PM / 5 years ago

Volkswagen, Embraer summoned in Brazil dictatorship probe

SAO PAULO, Feb 26 (Reuters) - A “truth commission” investigating crimes during Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship has summoned Germany’s Volkswagen AG and five local companies to testify whether their collaboration with the regime led to rights abuses.

The commission created by the legislature in Sao Paulo state, Brazil’s most populous, wants the companies to “explain their actions during the period of repression” in sessions on Friday and Monday, according to a statement.

The other companies are Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer SA , industrial firms Grupo Aliperti and Cobrasma SA, port operator Companhia Docas do Estado de Sao Paulo (Codesp), and Companhia Metropolitano de Sao Paulo (Metro), which operates the city’s subway system.

The companies were selected based on the strength of evidence suggesting they collaborated with the military to repress and intimidate union activists, said Sebastião Neto, a labor advocate working with the commission.

The companies are not legally obligated to send representatives to testify, but some said they would, Neto said.

“It’s time we hear how the companies justify themselves,” he told Reuters.

A Codesp spokeswoman said the company would send a representative to Monday’s session but declined further comment. Representatives at Cobrasma and Embraer, which was controlled by the government prior to its privatization in 1994, declined comment.

Volkswagen, Grupo Aliperti and Metro did not respond to requests for comment.

A separate, nationwide truth commission appointed by President Dilma Rousseff found documents last year indicating that dozens of Brazilian and multinational companies provided the military with names, addresses and other personal information of labor activists on their payrolls.

Many of the workers were then fired, detained or harassed by police, and were unable to find new jobs for years afterward, a Reuters investigation showed.

The national commission, which dissolved in December upon presenting its report, recommended that prosecutors try to bring civil lawsuits against some companies. Some workers are also pushing for reparations or an apology.

Whatever statements the companies provide will be included in the Sao Paulo state commission’s final report in March, which will then be given to federal prosecutors.

Some prosecutors doubt the evidence is strong enough to merit lawsuits. The national commission debated summoning companies to testify last year, but decided not to, in part because some members felt doing so would generate publicity but little tangible new evidence.

The passage of time has also complicated efforts at justice.

For example, Cobrasma still exists as a legal entity but ceased manufacturing in 1998, according to its website. (Editing by Todd Benson and Matthew Lewis)

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