Famed New York trial attorney Roy M. Cohn dramatically rose from the audience of the Ford Motor Co. annual meeting here yesterday to demand answers from Chairman Henry Ford II on charges that the company paid a bribe to an Indonesian official and subsequently submitted forged and backdated documents to the Justice Department to cover up the alleged payoff.
Cohn, who is counsel for several stockholders in a suit against Henry Ford II for accepting kickbacks from Canteen Corp. in exchange for granting that firm some Ford food contracts, got a direct answer to one question and no answer to the second.
"Is it a fact," Cohn, with hands and voice shaking, asked, "that any payment was made by the Ford Motor Company to an official of the Indonesian government in order to obtain a contract for the Philco Division.?"
"No," Ford said defiantly.
Cohn then quoted from a news report stating that Ford Motor Co. admitted, in a letter to the Justice Department, that it earlier submitted to that department "forged, backdated documentation in order to cover up the Indonesian situation."
"Yes or no?" asked Cohn, clutching a microphone and striving to hear over a chorus of boos from several of the 1,500 stockholders present.
"There isn't any yes or no answer," Ford said. "I do not know how to answer because of the legal problems involved." He then turned over the floor to the company's general counsel Henry R. Nolte Jr., who said:
"It is absolutely inappropriate to get involved in the minute details of this matter since it is being investigated by the Justice Department and we are cooperating with Justice."
But Cohn, once chief counsel to the late Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy's subcommittee investigating alleged communist activity in the United States in the 1950s, persisted.He asked the same question over and over, finally pushing Henry Ford to say, "Mr. Cohn, this is not a court of law."
"There are federal grand juries and courts that can get the answer you will not give voluntarily to your stockholders," Cohn said.
Cohn said questioned Ford's denial of the bribe payment. "Your definition of a bribe," Cohn said to Ford, "might be different than the Justice Department's or the courts of the United States."
Cohn has said that five former Ford executives are providing information for his lawsuit. In a brief post-meeting press conference, Ford said, "I don't believe that statement."
During the debate over Cohn's statements and charges raised in a stockholders' suit against Ford, retired Ford vice president John S. Bugas, a former special FBI agent before joining the auto company, stood to defend his former boss.
"I view that lawsuit with trepidation and disgust," he said, "as an attempt to harrass a management about which I am intimately familiar."
Bugas, who said he was not invited to speak at the meeting said he once personally relayed a message from Ford to a Canteen official, who was a personal friend of Ford's, that any bid by Canteen for Ford business "would have to go through the purchasing department."
Bugas received a brief standing ovation from the audience when he finished his laudatory remarks.
In a statement read at the onset of the meeting, Ford called the charges in the suit filed by Cohn "so blatantly untrue and so completely unwarranted by the fact that I felt I had no other course but to speak out immediately."
He termed "totally untrue" the charge that he accepted $750,000 in "kickbacks" from Canteen Corp. in return for an "exclusive concession to provide food and beverages at the company's various offices and factories.
"There is no such thing as an exclusive concession for food and beverage service for all Ford facilities," he said.
Canteen, he added, is one of more than 50 outside firms providing food services to Ford plants and offices around the world, and "is not our largest supplier in this field." He said Canteen has less than a quarter of Ford's business in the United States and "even less" in Europe.
He also denied accepting gifts from his brother-in-law Walter B. Ford II, who heads a Warren, Mich., firm called Ford and Earl Design Associates.
The suit charges that Ford and Earl was given considerable Ford business in exchange for furniture and furnishings give to Henry Ford.
Henry Ford admitted that Ford and Earl had been paid "about $1.2 million for work on specific Ford projects," and added in response to questioning that there was no competitive bidding for the projects. However, he added, Ford and Earl has an international reputation.
Turning to company business, Ford said that 1978, the company's 75th year, "will not be a profitable as 1977," according to early indications. He described 1977 as "an outstanding year with record worldwide factory sales of cars, trucks and tractors, record dollar sales, record profits, record employment and record payroll."
But, Ford predicted that "it is possible that U.S. car sales this year could match last year's level of 11.2 million units - the second best year ever.
Ford cited government regulation as increasing the cost of doing business. He pinted out that Ford Motor Co. has had "15 to 17 recalls this year." He could not give a gross figure for those recalls but said, "We expect to spend $15 to $20 billion between now and 1985 for new products to meet government emissions, fuel economy and safety standards."