Renault escalates espionage probe to state investigators

City A.M. Reporter
A FRENCH state prosecutor is poised to launch an inquiry into industrial espionage at Renault after the carmaker filed a legal complaint alleging information was passed to a foreign power.

France's domestic intelligence service DCRI is expected to be handed the investigation by Monday, sources close to the matter told Reuters.

Paris prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin said Renault lodged a complaint on counts of organised theft, aggravated breach of trust and passing intelligence to a foreign power, yesterday.

The move, which sets the scene for a lengthy judicial process, follows the suspension last week of three executives suspected of leaking information about its high-profile electric vehicle programme.

The carmaker said yesterday that it had discovered serious misconduct, detrimental to its "strategic, technological and intellectual assets".

Its complaint was against "persons unknown", implying all those involved may not yet have been identified.

Renault did not name the foreign power in its complaint, but did identify foreign private companies, Renault's lawyer Jean Reinhart said.

Renault Chief Operating Officer Patrick Pelata has said the carmaker had fallen victim to an organised international network but key electric vehicle technology is safe.

The Paris prosecutor, who is linked to the state, can either open a preliminary investigation that he oversees, or a judicial inquiry that would be entrusted to an independent magistrate.

France has dubbed the case "economic warfare" and is considering tightening up legislation to protect companies.

The scandal has threatened to harm improving relations between France and China, after a government source said intelligence services were looking into a possible connection with China as part of initial checks before the official probe.