Renault Executives Accused of Industrial Espionage Fire Back

January 24, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015

DEFENSE: Thibault de Moutbrial (L), lawyer for one of three top managers of French carmaker Renault suspected of industrial espionage, Matthieu Tenenbaum (R), answers to journalists before a meeting with Renault bosses.  (Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images)
DEFENSE: Thibault de Moutbrial (L), lawyer for one of three top managers of French carmaker Renault suspected of industrial espionage, Matthieu Tenenbaum (R), answers to journalists before a meeting with Renault bosses. (Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images)
Three senior-ranking former Renault executives have  hit back at claims they were involved in industrial espionage at France’s second largest automaker.

The case came to light when the car manufacturer, based in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt filed a criminal complaint on Jan. 13 of industrial espionage, corruption, breach of trust, and theft after a five-month investigation.

The origins of the illegal involvement were traced to China, and sources connected to the investigation, according to a defense lawyer, have indicated that there were transactions linked to offshore bank accounts in Lichtenstein and Switzerland.

Words have been exchanged via the media between a lawyer representing one of the three accused Renault executives who were dismissed due to spy charges, and the Renault Chief Executive Officer, Carols Ghosn. Ghosn was asked by Pierre-Olivier Sur, one of the lawyers defending Renault's former vice president of advanced engineering, Michel Balthazard, to provide evidence to justify the spy allegations, as at this stage there have not been any precise details revealed.

“Lawyer Xavier Thouvenin and myself call on the Renault chief executive to lay out the proof tonight," Sur told Reuters, noting Renault's investigation had been trigged by an anonymous letter. "We are far, very far, from having any proof."

Ghosn has stated there are “multiple” proofs in the a case against the three former executives and that “all the information in our possession is today in the hands of judicial authorities. … I am not going to go into details here of what we did. But we have been irreproachable from a legal point of view … [and] waiting for the justice system to do its work."

There are scheduled roll outs for three electric car models for Renault in 2011, and the head of the company is confident the current fiasco will not impact on sales.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has also instigated an investigation by French intelligence, and this process is threatening Sino-French relations, which have been strained, despite China denying involvement. Industry Minister Eric Besson stated on French radio recently that Renault could have opted to work with authorities on this pressing matter rather than confine the investigation to within the company.