The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [text, PDF] Wednesday that a lawsuit by Argentine citizens can proceed against Daimler AG [official website] for the actions of Mercedes-Benz Argentina [official website, in Spanish] during the nation's 1976-1983 "Dirty War" [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The suit, which was dismissed by the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] in 2005 due to a lack of jurisdiction, alleges that Mercedes-Benz Argentina "collaborated with state security forces to kidnap, detain, torture, and kill the plaintiffs and/or their relatives." The plaintiffs seek damages under the alien tort statute [text] and the Torture Victims Protection Act of 1991 [text]. The initial judgment stated that the case should be brought in Argentina or Germany, Daimler AG's place of incorporation. In the opinion, Judge Reinhardt rejected this and stated the US has jurisdiction over the claims:
The reality is that in an increasingly complex and globalized economy, international corporations such as DCAG reap enormous profits from the sale of their goods in the United States. The sales are achieved through the use of major distributors, frequently in the form of subsidiaries. Many international companies organize their corporate structure and establish subsidiaries for the sole purpose of obtaining the maximum benefit from the American market. To the ordinary American, and certainly to us, it would seem odd, indeed, if the manufacturer of Mercedes-Benz vehicles, which are sold in California in vast numbers by its American subsidiary, for use on the state's streets and highways, could not be required to appear in the federal courts of that state.He also determined that neither Argentina nor Germany would be fully adequate forums to address the suit. Daimler AG intends to appeal the decision [Reuters report] and denies all charges stemming from the original lawsuit.
Argentina continues to prosecute those accused of committing human rights abuses during the Dirty War. Earlier this week, eight former Argentine military officers were convicted for the massacre of Margarita Belen [JURIST report]. An Argentine federal court in April sentenced [JURIST report] former general Eduardo Cabanillas to life in prison for his involvement in the Dirty War. Former general Luciano Benjamin Menendez, already serving a life sentence, was sentenced to an additional life sentence [JURIST report] in March for the attack and murder of five urban guerrilla group members. Also in March, an Argentine court commenced the trial of former dictators Jorge Videla [Trial Watch profile; JURIST news archive] and Reynaldo Bignone [JURIST news archive] for allegedly overseeing a systematic plan to steal babies [JURIST report] born to political prisoners. In December, Videla was sentenced to life in prison [JURIST report] for crimes against humanity. Also last May, Argentine authorities arrested [JURIST report] former secret service agent Miguel Angel Furci on charges of human rights abuses. Furci, a former agent of the Secretariat of State Intelligence (SIDE), was charged with 70 kidnappings and the torture of detainees at Orletti.