Iconic German carmaker faces lawsuit over rape and abuse
Employees who worked at a Brazilian ranch run by German carmaker Volkswagen in the 1970s and 1980s were subjected to “grave and systematic” abuses, prosecutors in Brazil have alleged.
Reports emerged in German media at the weekend that authorities in the South American country are investigating events that occurred more than four decades ago at Fazenda Rio Cristalino in the Amazon rainforest.
On Tuesday, the lead prosecutor in the case, Rafael Garcia, detailed the alleged human-rights violations at the ranch, which had been offered to Volkswagen for purchase and development by the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil at that time.
The laborers were lured to the farm in the northern state of Para with false promises of high pay, and were then forced to cut down the jungle in harsh conditions to free space for the German firm's cattle ranch, Garcia told AFP. There, they were “systematically, physically abused” by the armed guards, he added.
“Workers who tried to escape were beaten, tied to trees and left there for days,” the prosecutor said. “Those who tried to slip into the forest never came back – there were simply stories that they had been killed.”
The accusations against Volkswagen stem from a three-year-long probe by a special task force that was assembled after a local Catholic priest came forward and spoke about the alleged abuse at the ranch.
Witnesses told investigators that “one worker tried to escape, but the gunmen caught him. As punishment, they kidnapped his wife and raped her,” Garcia said.
“Another worker tried to flee and was shot in the leg. Yet another was left bound and naked,” he added.
According to the prosecutor, the laborers were kept in “debt-slavery” at the farm as they were forced to buy food and supplies from a local store for unfairly high prices.
Some of the victims have also allegedly died of malaria due to lack of proper medical care.
The prosecutors have summoned Volkswagen’s representatives for an initial audience on June 14. The sides will try to reach a settlement during that meeting. If they fail to find common ground, charges against the German carmaker may be pressed.
Volkswagen said earlier that it was taking the allegations “very seriously,” but refrained from further comment “due to possible legal proceedings in Brazil.”
The German firm had already agreed to pay $6.4 million in 2020 as compensation for helping Brazil's secret police track down left-wing opposition members and union leaders during the military dictatorship between 1964 and 1985. Many of these were detained and tortured.