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GM accuses ex-director of leaking information to Fiat

General Motors Co. sues a former board member and claims he leaked confidential information to a competing company and to United Auto Workers.

In a federal lawsuit filed in New Jersey this week, the company accused Joseph Ashton, a former vice president of the UAW, of accepting bribes from rival competitor Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, which at the time was trying to pressure GM into a merger. Mr. Ashton served as director of GM at the time of the merger’s progress, which later became public.

Mr. Ashton’s attorney, Jerome Ballarotto of New Jersey, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Fiat Chrysler has called GM̵

7;s broader allegations of bribery of union officials contained in other lawsuits unprofitable, saying they are an attempt to damage the company’s reputation.

In its lawsuit, GM said Fiat Chrysler used offshore bank accounts to bribe Mr. Ashton in exchange for confidential information that he had access to in his role as GM board member. The former UAW official served on GM’s board from 2014 to 2017.

The trial also accuses Mr. Ashton for taking bribes from Fiat Chrysler during the time he served as UAW’s leading labor dealer with GM. GM said Fiat Chrysler paid Mr Ashton to run a tougher trade with GM in labor negotiations.

“Partly because of Ashton’s disloyalty and breach of trust, GM was forced to incur billions of dollars in increased labor costs,” GM’s lawsuit says.

The lawsuit is an extension of a broader effort by GM to hold Fiat Chrysler accountable for what it claims was an orchestrated effort to harm GM.

In an unusual legal battle against two major competitors, GM filed a scary lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler in November, claiming that its employees bribed UAW officials to gain a competitive advantage over labor costs.

GM last month appealed the case to the Sixth U.S. Court of Appeals after a federal judge in Detroit dismissed it.

GM made similar allegations against Mr. Ashton last month in a court that tried to keep his federal lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler alive.

In the case against Mr. Ashton also cites GM as former UAW President Dennis Williams as a “key player” in Fiat Chrysler’s alleged conspiracy to merge with its larger competitor. GM claims that Fiat Chrysler also used offshore accounts to pay bribes to Mr. Williams, who was charged with embezzlement late last month. Lawyers for Mr. Williams did not immediately return a request for comment.

Mr. Ashton last year pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering while he was a UAW official. He was accused of rigging UAW supplier contracts in return for setbacks.

The charges against Ms. Ashton and Williams were part of a broader, multi-year federal investigation into corruption in the UAW that has resulted in charges against 15 people.

–Nora Naughton contributed to this article.

Write to Mike Colias at Mike.Colias@wsj.com

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