Renault Picks Nissan Exec As New COO

French automaker named Carlos Tavares its news COO in effort to move on from an embarrassing scandal around false accusations of espionage.

PARIS (AP) -- French automaker Renault SA named a top executive of Nissan Americas as its new chief operating officer on Monday, in an effort to move on from an embarrassing scandal around false accusations of espionage.

The partially state-owned French car maker said Carlos Tavares, head of operations at the U.S. division of Renault partner Nissan, will take up the post immediately.

In a statement, Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of both Renault and Nissan, called the appointment of longtime Renault veteran Tavares "a first step in strengthening Renault's management."

Also Monday, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. said Colin Dodge, its chief performance officer and chairman of Africa, Middle East, India and Europe, will take on the Americas post that had been held by Tavares.

Renault in April announced a wide-scale corporate shakeout -- including the ouster of Patrick Pelata from the COO post -- over a scandal over false accusations against three executives for espionage.

When the scandal was made public early this year, Pelata accused the three executives of masterminding an "organized, international network" to obtain information on Renault's flagship electric car program.

The three were suspended Jan. 11 after Renault announced it had discovered signs of espionage and proof the men had received "funds from a foreign source," and accused them of selling strategic information.

The executives had strongly denied the allegations and investigators could not verify them. Renault sent a deep apology to the wrongly accused employees in March.

Three of Renault's top security officers and its legal counsel lost their jobs in the scandal, and Ghosn responded by announcing that he would waive all stock option benefits for this year and bonuses for 2010.

The three wrongly accused executives have since reached settlements with Renault, which the car maker did not make public.

Shortly after the scandal broke, Industry Minister Eric Besson spoke openly of "economic warfare" against one of France's top industrial giants -- and one lawmaker from French President Nicolas Sarkozy's party floated an unspecified "Chinese buyer" connection on French radio.

China's foreign ministry rejected that allegation by Bernard Carayon, a conservative UMP party lawmaker, as "totally groundless, irresponsible and unacceptable."

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