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Spy case to go to court

2011-01-12 15:01

Boulogne-Billancourt, France - Renault will pursue legal action over alleged information leaks affecting its electric vehicle programme following meetings with the three executives it suspended.


One of the trio denied any wrongdoing, while a lawyer for another said his client had been accused on the basis of an anonymous letter which said he had received bribes.


A French government source said last week a possible Chinese link was being explored in the industrial espionage scandal but had not been substantiated.


"Renault is bringing very serious accusations against me, which I deny totally," Michel Balthazard, one of the suspended employees, said after his meeting with Renault management.


Balthazard, vice-president of advanced engineering at Renault, said he was "totally surprised" by his suspension.


"SERIOUS OFFENCE"


Renault said it had met the three suspended employees for talks at its headquarters just outside Paris ahead of possible dismissal for what it described as a "serious offence".


A lawyer for Matthieu Tenenbaum, deputy head of Renault's electric vehicle programme, said the company had not answered key questions and called for a quick judicial hearing.


"Mr Tenenbaum is accused on the basis of an anonymous letter. This anonymous letter is supposed to indicate ... that (he) received bribes and committed acts that contravened the ethics (code)," Tenenbaum's lawyer, Thibault de Montbrial, said.


Earlier, China denied any link to industrial espionage, dismissing reports of its possible involvement as "baseless".


"We have noticed the relevant reports," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular news briefing. "We think that some people saying that China is behind this case is totally baseless and irresponsible."


French government spokesman Francois Baroin said France was not accusing any country of involvement.


"There is no official accusation by France and the French government towards any country today. An inquiry is under way," Baroin told Europe 1 radio. "Renault, like others, is the victim of a war of economic intelligence."


Relations between France and China hit a low two years ago when French President Nicolas Sarkozy criticised China's policy on Tibet.


A visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to Paris late last year helped repair ties as France seeks to secure Chinese support for reform of the global monetary system under its presidency of the Group of 20 club of economic powers.


LAUNCHES UNAFFECTED


Earlier, the Financial Times reported that Renault had uncovered evidence of suspect financial transactions involving bank accounts in Switzerland.


The electric vehicle programme is a key plank of the 15-percent state-owned carmaker's strategy. Together with Japanese partner Nissan it is investing billions of euros in the project.


Renault chief operating officer Patrick Pelata has said the carmaker was the victim of an organised international network.


He said vital electric vehicle technology was safe and production of the cars would not be affected. Renault is set to launch the first of its electric car range - the Fluence and the Kangoo - later this year.

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