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Germans Glad as VW Settles Suit

Volkswagen 's relief is echoed across Germany. A $100 million out-of-court settlement has ended the most harrowing part of the Lopez affair, in which thousands of important documents were allegedly stolen by an executive leaving General Motors Corp. for VW in 1993. From the financial community to the man in the street worried about joblessness, Germans are clearly glad to close the civil chapter, at least, of this long-drawn-out saga.

"We welcome this decision," says Dagmar Opoczynski, spokeswoman for IG Metall, the metalworkers' union, whose members work for both VW and GM's Opel subsidiary in Germany. "We are glad that this suit has come to an end."

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Jos Ignacio Lopez de Arriortua, a Basque whose career at GM soared as he slashed costs, still faces criminal charges in Germany. The US Justice Department is also investigating the matter. Mr. Lopez allegedly stole sensitive parts-pricing information and plans for a high-efficiency car-assembly system known as "Plant X."

Lopez is also a symbol to many Germans of ruthless business practices, says Martin Kannegiesser, president and owner of Herbert Kannegiesser GmbH, a machine manufacturing concern in Vlotho. "He was seen as squeezing the little supplier firms severely, he says, "while Volkswagen itself went ahead with its own generous contracts" for its employees.

The $100 million payment VW agreed to pay is not pocket change. But, given the possibility that an American court could have ordered VW to pay triple damages - perhaps billions of dollars - the consensus is that VW got off cheap. Volkswagen also agreed to buy $1 billion of parts from GM over seven years. Volkswagen had been under heavy pressure to settle the case in the weeks since a Detroit judge ruled that a US civil lawsuit could go forward.

Investors rewarded the deal, reached Thursday, by sending VW stock up sharply. Friday's closing price was up 4.7 percent from Wednesday.

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