Renault summons execs over alleged China spying
French car maker Renault Tuesday summoned three top managers suspected of industrial espionage reportedly involving the company's electric cars programme, as China denied it was involved.
Union officials at the company told AFP the executives were called in to see bosses for meetings throughout Tuesday afternoon and would be accompanied by union representatives, at an undisclosed location to avoid the media.
The company said it had suspended the three last week over suspicions they had leaked strategic information. Reports said the secrets concerned details of the electric cars on which Renault has staked its future.
Media reports and some French officials said the car maker suspected a Chinese company could have benefited from the leaked information, prompting an angry denial from Beijing on Tuesday.
"As for this so-called story that China is involved, we believe this is totally groundless, irresponsible and unacceptable," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters.
French newspaper Le Figaro reported Tuesday that a Chinese firm had paid undisclosed sums into Swiss and Liechtenstein bank accounts opened by two Renault executives implicated in the inquiry.
The French government's spokesman Francois Baroin insisted it was not pointing the finger at any country in the affair.
"It is a process of inquiry," Baroin told Europe 1 radio. "Renault, like others, is the victim of an economic intelligence war."
Officials have said French intelligence services are monitoring the case and Renault says it plans to press charges. It has said it did not lose any major trade secrets in the affair and has not commented on allegations about China.
Renault number two Patrick Pelata told Saturday's Le Monde daily that its inquiries showed it had been targeted by an "organised international network."
Union leaders who asked not to be named told AFP on Monday that the three were summoned to meetings with Renault bosses on Tuesday afternoon and would be accompanied by union representatives, suggesting they may be fired.
Those summoned included Matthieu Tenenbaum, the joint head of Renault's electric vehicles programme, whose lawyer spoke out in his defence in a statement last week.
Le Figaro, which did not identify its sources, reported that private investigators hired by Renault uncovered a Swiss bank account containing 500,000 euros ($646,000) and another in Liechtenstein with 130,000 euros.
It said the money had been paid in by a Chinese power company.
In what appeared to be a bid to hide the payments, the cash was moved via a series of intermediary transfers via Shanghai and Malta.
Renault and its Japanese partner Nissan have staked their future on electric vehicles and plan to launch several models by 2014 to meet the rapidly rising demand for more environmentally-friendly methods of transport.
They have invested four billion euros ($5.2 billion) in the programme.
© 2011 AFP