Renault summons executives at centre of spy row: unions

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French car maker Renault may on Tuesday fire three top managers suspended over alleged industrial espionage, unions told AFP, as fresh allegations over the affair appeared in the media.

Union leaders who asked not to be named told AFP that the three had been summoned to meetings with Renault bosses on Tuesday afternoon and would be accompanied by union representatives.

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.

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.

Fresh allegations about the affair appeared in the French media late Monday.

Le Figaro alleged that a Chinese company had paid undisclosed sums into Swiss and Liechtenstein bank accounts opened by two Renault executives implicated in an industrial espionage inquiry.

The payments were discovered by private investigators hired by Renault, Le Figaro reported on its website late Monday, without identifying its sources.

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 from 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.

But neither the company nor the French government has confirmed those claims.

Renault's partner Nissan meanwhile said it had confidence in how the French company was handling the affair.

"Our partner is very focused on making sure they understand what went wrong," said Carlos Tavares, chairman of Nissan's Americas division.

"We at Nissan trust that our partner Renault will do the right thing to fix it."

© 2011 AFP

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