China denies link to Renault spy ring

11th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

China on Tuesday denied any involvement in an industrial espionage scandal that has erupted at French car maker Renault, calling such claims "groundless, irresponsible and unacceptable".

French newspaper Le Figaro reported that a Chinese firm had paid undisclosed sums into Swiss and Liechtenstein bank accounts opened by two Renault executives implicated in the inquiry, which centres on electric car technology.

"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.

Renault said it had suspended three top managers 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.

Le Figaro, which did not identify its sources, reported on its website late Monday that the payments were discovered by private investigators hired by Renault.

The investigators uncovered a Swiss 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 made no comment to Le Figaro on its story, but in comments to Le Monde newspaper at the weekend, the company's number two, chief operating officer Patrick Pelata, spoke in terms of an "organised international network".

Various media reports and analysts said spies were after information on the high-stakes electric car programme, and that Chinese firms stood to benefit.

© 2011 AFP

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