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New York lawsuit by South African group accuses corporate giants of aiding apartheid
NEW YORK - Victims of South Africa's apartheid government have filed a multibillion-dollar lawsuit accusing international corporations of condoning murder, torture and other abuses under the white-minority government.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court, claims Citigroup, Swiss banking giant UBS and other corporations "acted with deliberate indifference to the well-being of the African population" while doing in business in South Africa before the fall of apartheid in 1994.
Some of the businesses contacted said the allegations are groundless.
The class-action lawsuit was brought by the Khulumani organization, a South African support group for victims of apartheid, on behalf of its 32,700 members and 85 other people. It seeks billions in damages from as many as 100 businesses.
The plaintiffs allege that over three decades, the businesses aided the South African government "in the commission of crimes of apartheid, forced labor, genocide, extrajudicial killing, torture, sexual assault, unlawful detention and cruel, unusual and degrading treatment."
Citigroup, UBS and Credit Suisse also were named in a similar lawsuit filed in June. Both cases follow a precedent established in litigation on behalf of Holocaust victims, who gained a $1.25 billion settlement from Swiss corporations.
Citigroup said in a statement: "We believe the suit is without merit." UBS President Peter Wuffli said the bank regretted the events in South Africa, but denied any "connection between the suffering of victims and the activities of the bank."
Credit Suisse has said it saw no grounds for the class-action lawsuit and said the company should not be held responsible for apartheid's crimes.
Exxon Mobil spokeswoman Sandy Duhe called the lawsuit "an abuse of the U.S. civil justice system."
Other U.S. companies named in the new lawsuit include JP Morgan Chase, Ford, and IBM.
J.P. Morgan Chase officials said the bank does not comment on matters in litigation. Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford said it had not seen the lawsuit and had no immediate comment.
"We have not been served with a complaint. Based on what we understand, we don't believe the suit has merit," said IBM spokeswoman Carol Makovich.
The lawsuit claims the defendants helped prop up the white government with loans and other deals worth billions of dollars, even after the United Nations asked all member states to break off diplomatic and business relations with South Africa in 1962.
South Africa's segregationist regime began in 1948 and ended 46 years later with the election of Nelson Mandela as president in the nation's first all-race elections.
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