Ex-Ford Argentina execs convicted in torture case

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UPDATE: 12/11/2018 17:11 ET – adds details

BUENOS AIRES – An Argentine court sentenced Tuesday two former executives at a local Ford Motor Co. factory of involvement in the torture of workers during the country's dictatorship in the 1970s, victims' attorneys said, adding that they are suing Ford in the US federal court.

It is the first time that former executives of a multinational company working in Argentina during the dictatorship have been convicted of crimes against humanity, according to one of the lawyers, Tomas Ojea Quintana.

"It is clear that Ford Motor Company controlled the Argentine subsidiary in the 1970s. That is why there is a direct responsibility of Ford Motor Company and that could give us the opportunity to present the case to the US courts," said Ojea Quintana. .

Ford Argentina said in a statement that it was not part of the case and had fully participated in prosecutors. Ford officials in the United States could not immediately be reached for comment.

Legal experts said the Argentine Ford workers would have to make a tough fight to start a successful lawsuit in the US.

The case concerns the kidnapping and torture of 1976 by 24 Ford employees in their factory on the outskirts of Buenos Aires during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

Former local Ford executives Pedro Muller and Hector Sibilla were sentenced to 10 and 12 years in prison respectively for their involvement in the crimes, told Elizabeth Gomez Alcorta, a lawyer representing the victims, to Reuters after the conviction.

Muller and Sibilla were accused of providing photos, residential addresses and other personal details of the victims to agents of the dictatorship so that they could be abducted.

The duo "also allowed a detention center to be set up in the buildings of that factory, in the recreation area, so that the abductees could be questioned", according to judicial documents.

"There they were handcuffed, beaten and their faces covered so that they could not see who was there at the hearing," said the accusation against Muller and Sibilla.

Family members of victims connected arms and kept photos of their relatives while the verdict was announced. Some wore or wore white scarves, an emblem of the Mothers of Argentina from the Plaza de Mayo, an association of women whose children disappeared during the Dirty War.

About 30,000 people were killed during the dictatorship, according to figures from human rights organizations. Many of the victims were kidnapped, tortured and even thrown out of helicopters while they were still alive in the sea.

In the Ford case, Kevin Clermont, a professor at Cornell University, said that the victims would have a "real problem" to overcome the American statute of limitations in a civil lawsuit that usually allows claims up to six years.

Foreigners can sue in US courts, but several decisions by the US Supreme Court in recent years have made it more difficult for prosecutors to prosecute companies for alleged violations abroad.

A decision by the Supreme Court of 2013 stated that prosecutors have to show their "touch and worry" claim in the United States, a high leash to erase, according to legal experts.

The workers would have to prove that the actions of the Argentine subsidiary were "fully controlled" by the American parent of Ford, a fact that in most cases is difficult to demonstrate, said Ralph Steinhardt, a professor at the University of Washington.