Renault Executive Loses Job In Spy Scandal

PARIS (AP) — One of Renault's top executives will lose his job amid a wide-scale corporate shakeout following a deeply embarrassing scandal that saw France's partially state-owned car maker falsely accuse three of its executives of espionage.

In a statement Monday, Renault said Chief Operating Officer Patrick Pelata would be removed from his position and given unspecified duties within the Renault-Nissan alliance.

It was Pelata who earlier this year accused the three executives of orchestrating an "organized, international network" to obtain information on Renault's flagship electric car program.

Renault's top security officer and two of his colleagues will lose their jobs, and two other executives including Renault's legal counsel are to be relieved of their duties "pending discussions concerning their future."

Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn, who in January said "we have the certitude" and "multiple" proofs of the alleged espionage, is keeping his job.

The threewrongly accusedd executives have reached settlements with Renault, which the car maker did not make public. French press reports have cited a combined figure of euro11 million ($16 million) for all three, plus a fourth executive who was wrongly dismissed in a separate incident in 2009.

The cloak-and-dagger affair, which was more "Spy vs Spy" than James Bond, has been deeply embarrassing for France's second biggest carmaker. The company had previously said Ghosn and Pelata would forego all stock option benefits for 2011 and their bonuses for 2010.

Renault executives Michel Balthazard, Bertrand Rochette and Matthieu Tenenbaum were suspended Jan. 11 after the company said it had discovered signs of espionage, had proof the men received "funds from a foreign source" and accused them of selling "information strategic for the company."

The executives had strongly denied the allegations and investigators could not verify them. Renault's focus then shifted to a possible scam.

Preliminary charges of "organized fraud" were filed in March against Dominique Gevrey, once employed by the Defense Ministry intelligence service and one of the executives whose removal was announced Monday.

Renault sent a deep apology to the wrongly accused employees last month.

Investigators in the French intelligence service found a series of clues the prosecutor contends pointed to Gevrey — the only person in contact with an alleged source who furnished bank information implicating the three executives. That information turned out to be false.

Banking information Gevrey furnished in the 2009 firing of an executive in an unrelated case also was false.

Renault had launched an internal investigation into allegations the three executives had "deliberately and consciously threatened" company assets, after receiving an anonymous letter more than four months earlier denouncing the men. The allegations centered on Renault's electric car program, in which Renault and partner Nissan Motor Co. had invested $4 billion.

The scandal, which Renault made public in January, led French Industry Minister Eric Besson to openly talk of "economic warfare" being waged on one of France's leading industrial giants.

Renault filed a criminal complaint on Jan. 13 "against persons unknown" — for acts constituting organized industrial espionage, corruption, breach of trust, theft and concealment — after the carmaker said it had discovered "serious misconduct detrimental to the company" and in particular to its "strategic, technological and intellectual assets."