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The Globe and Mail

Renault executive denies spy scandal involvement

Carlos Ghosn


A senior employee at Renault denied any involvement in industrial espionage after allegations that three executives leaked green car technology secrets.

A French government source said last week a possible Chinese connection was being explored but had not been substantiated, after Renault suspended three executives suspected of leaking information on its electric vehicle program.

"Renault is bringing very serious accusations against me, which I deny totally," Michel Balthazard, one of the suspended employees, said after a meeting with Renault management on Tuesday.

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Mr. Balthazard, who is vice-president of advanced engineering at Renault, said the company had not yet made any decision about whether to fire him.

Renault, which has said it is studying all legal options and will probably press charges, was due to meet all of the suspended employees on Tuesday afternoon.

Mr. Balthazard said he was "totally surprised" by his suspension.

Earlier China also denied any link to the industrial espionage scandal at the French car maker, dismissing reports of its possible involvement as "baseless."

"We have noticed the relevant reports," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular news briefing. "We think that some people saying that China is behind this case is totally baseless and irresponsible."

French government spokesman Francois Baroin said France was not accusing any country of involvement.

"There is no official accusation by France and the French government towards any country today. An inquiry is under way," Mr. Baroin told Europe 1 radio. "Renault, like others, is the victim of a war of economic intelligence."

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Renault, 15 per cent owned by the French state, declined to comment.

Relations between France and China hit a low two years ago when French President Nicolas Sarkozy criticised China's policy on Tibet.

A visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to Paris late last year helped repair ties as France seeks to secure Chinese support for reform of the global monetary system under its presidency of the Group of 20 club of economic powers.

Earlier, the Financial Times reported that Renault had uncovered evidence of suspect financial transactions involving bank accounts in Switzerland.

The electric vehicle program is a key plank of the car maker's strategy. Together with Japanese partner Nissan it is investing billions of euros in the project.

Renault Chief Operating Officer Patrick Pelata has said the carmaker was the victim of an organized international network.

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He said vital electric vehicle technology was safe and production of the cars would not be affected. Renault is set to launch its first electric cars -- the Fluence and the Kangoo -- later this year.

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