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Former Ford Argentina executives sentenced in torture cases

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — An Argentine court on Tuesday sentenced two former Ford Motor Co. executives to prison for helping agents of the country's former dictatorship round up 24 Argentine union workers who were tortured and held in military jails.

The courtroom was crowded with some of the victims and family members, some of whom broke into tears and hugged after the sentencing for crimes against humanity was announced. The court said that factory manufacturing director Pedro Muller and security manager Hector Francisco Sibilla targeted workers and gave information to security agents for their kidnapping and torture after the 1976 military coup.

Muller was sentenced to 10 years and Sibilla to 12 years. Santiago Omar Riveros, a former chief of the army's fourth battallion, was sentenced to 15 years. He is already serving time in another case for human rights abuses. Sibilla and Riveros are Argentines and Muller was described in the initial indictment as a Czech national.

The men, all in their 80s or 90s, deny wrongdoing and can appeal. Prosecutors had asked for jail sentences of up to 25 years. They had accused the men of giving names, ID numbers, pictures and home addresses to security forces who hauled the workers off the floor of Ford's factory in suburban Buenos Aires to be tortured and interrogated and then sent to military prisons.

"Memory, truth and justice - that's what we always demanded," Pedro Troiani, one of the victims, told The Associated Press outside the courtroom. "The company has been exposed and could not defend itself; they allowed the army to torture us inside the factory."

The trial that began last year is part of a series of prosecutions focused on corporate support for the brutal military dictatorship of 1976-1983, when about 30,000 people were killed or disappeared, according to human rights groups.

"Seven percent of civilians accused of crimes against humanity are businesspeople," said the Center for Legal and Social Studies, a human rights group in Argentina. "The dictatorship was the opportunity that some company executives saw to resolve labor conflicts in a repressive way and to boost their profits," the center said. "They put material resources at the military's disposition, such as cars and facilities, and passed along lists of targeted people, in this way forming yet another link in the structure of state terrorism."

About 5,000 workers were employed at the time by the Ford factory in suburban General Pacheco, producing the Falcon — a car that became a symbol of state terror because it was often used by military and police squads to carry off alleged subversives and move them between secret detention centers.

Ford said in a statement that it was aware of the sentence against the men but would not comment since the verdict is not final and can be appealed. "Ford Argentina is not a party to the case, but is aware of the verdict on the alleged participation of Ford Argentina employees in facts related to human rights issues in the '70s," the company said in a statement to The Associated Press.

"Ford Argentina has always kept a collaborative and open attitude with authorities, providing all the available information requested to clarify this situation." __ Associated Press journalists Almudena Calatrava and Leo La Valle contributed to this report.

__ Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao

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