Renault apologises to staff over false spy claims

City A.M. Reporter
French carmaker Renault has made a public apology to three executives accused of industrial espionage after the Paris prosecutor said the trio had no case to answer.

Bank accounts in Swiss and Liechtenstein, alleged to have been in the names of the executives and seen as key to the case over Renault's electric car technology, did not exist, prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin told a news conference.

The response of authorities in those countries has enabled the prosecutor "to dismiss a certain number of theories, notably that which was put forward in the initial complaint by the company Renault," Marin said.

Renault chief executive Carlos Ghosn and chief operating officer Patrick Pelata apologised to the three men following Marin's comments, pledging to repair the injustice against them after they were fired following a legal complaint in January.

Marin said the investigation was now focusing on whether Renault was the victim of fraud as no evidence had emerged backing its complaint of espionage.

The Paris prosecutor said Renault had already paid 310,000 euros for false information and had 390,000 euros more to pay.

Renault confirmed it had convened a special board meeting, and said it would make a statement afterwards.

The carmaker's management will face consequences now the case is unravelling. Pelata has hinted his own job may be at risk, saying Renault would accept all the consequences "up to the highest level of the company, that is to say up to myself".

The 15 per cent state-owned carmaker came under fire for carrying out its own investigation into suspected spying before informing the authorities of its fears.

The case briefly caused tensions with China after a government source said investigators were following up a possible link with China before a formal inquiry was launched.

Renault and the government subsequently played down talk of the link and China angrily denied any involvement.

A Renault security manager has been placed under investigation for suspected fraud concerning the spying allegations.

One analyst, who asked not to be named, said COO Pelata was "not necessarily irreplaceable, but it would still be a significant shock" if he stood down over the affair.