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GM asks judge to protect information sought by consumer advocate

Ditlow: "GM never told the bankruptcy court about the ignition switch while it got $49.5 billion in taxpayer dollars..."

UPDATED: 5/31/8:45 am - adds Ditlow comment

WASHINGTON (Bloomberg) -- General Motors Co. asked a federal judge in Washington to keep confidential information related to its 2009 government rescue from a consumer-advocacy group researching the ignition-switch defect that led to the recall of 2.59 million vehicles this year.

The Center for Auto Safety sued the Treasury in 2011 for business information that GM turned over to the government before the bailout. The center continues to demand records about the U.S. role in freeing the carmaker from liabilities so that customers and accident victims have no way of recovering money, it said.

Asking the judge to approve its participation in the case, GM said it had a right to intervene because of its “interests in its own business information.”

“GM has an interest in protecting its confidential information that obviously diverges from the center’s interest in disclosure, and that also diverges from Treasury’s interest in responding to the center’s request,” it said Friday in a filing in federal court in Washington.

The center sued the Treasury under the Freedom of Information Act, requiring the Treasury to respond according to its own regulatory obligations, GM said. The auto safety nonprofit continues to demand more documents even after the carmaker agreed with the Treasury to release “thousands of pages,” it said.

Taxpayer dollars

GM “covered up the deadly ignition switch defect for over 10 years,” Clarence Ditlow, president of the Washington-based center, said in an e-mail. “GM never told the bankruptcy court about the ignition switch while it got $49.5 billion in taxpayer dollars and exemption from product liability lawsuits.”

In a letter Friday to Anton Valukas, who was hired by GM to probe its handling of a defect that it links to 13 deaths, Ditlow said he expected the lawyer to examine GM’s choice of a cheap ignition switch over a safer one in 2001, and if it later made changes to mislead regulators about the device’s failure rate.

Kevin Kelly, a spokesman for GM, declined to comment on Ditlow’s statement.

GM is fighting more than 100 lawsuits over the recalled cars’ declining prices, claims for injuries and deaths and the alleged waste of corporate assets. GM said in an April regulatory filing that it plans to defend itself “vigorously” against all lawsuits.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Gerber, who handled the automaker’s restructuring and sale of shares to the U.S., ruled in 2009 that the reorganized GM would be liable for accidents resulting from defects, though not for claims for economic damages on old GM cars.

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