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Renault’s Ghosn offers mea culpa on botched spy case

Apology: Renault has offered to reinstate or compensate three employees it wrongfully accused of espionage relating to the company's EV program, which produces vehicles such as the Fluence ZE seen here at the 2010 Geneva show.

Top executives of Renault forgo bonuses after admitting they were wrong on spying

Renault logo16 Mar 2011

RENAULT has been forced into a humiliating apology to three employees wrongfully accused of selling secrets from the French company’s electric vehicle program, saying it would offer to reinstate or compensate the three after they were cleared of espionage by French investigators.

But Renault’s largest shareholder, the French government, is still far from happy, with an official spokesman accusing the company of “amateurism” and saying: “There will be further consequences.”

As well, French industry minister Eric Besson said on television that the apology from Renault CEO and president Carlos Ghosn after an extraordinary meeting of the company board in Paris had been “very important”, but added: “But this is not the end of this internal story.”

As part of their mea culpa, Mr Ghosn and all the senior managers involved in the scandalous accusations will waive their 2010 bonuses and stock option entitlements for 2011.

As well, chief operating officer Patrick Pelata offered to resign, but was refused by Mr Ghosn.

In another twist to the story, the French prosecutors’ office has said it picked up an employee from Renault’s security department, Dominique Gevrey, as he was trying to leave France on Friday on a flight to Guinea.

State prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin said Mr Gevrey was under investigation.

 center imageFrom top: Renault CEO and president Carlos Ghosn, Renault chief operating officer Patrick Pelata, Renault Twizy EV, Renault Kangoo EV.

French reports alleged that Mr Gevrey was paid thousands of euros by Renault to obtain information from someone with details of the supposed leaks.

According to a Renault statement released after the board meeting, a French prosecutor had “completely exonerated” Renault employees Michel Balthazard, Bertrand Rochette and Matthieu Tenenbaum of any wrongdoing.

The statement said that the findings of the investigation by the French Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence (DCRI) instead pointed to organised fraud involving at least one Renault employee.

In a separate statement announcing the “sincere apologies and regrets” by Mr Ghosn and Mr Pélata – regarded as Mr Ghosn’s right-rand man – Renault said the executives were committed to reparations for the three executives, and “that their honour in the public eye be restored”.

“They further acknowledge the serious personal harm that they (the accused) and their families have suffered. Carlos Ghosn and Patrick Pélata will personally meet with Messrs Balthazard, Rochette and Tenenbaum as soon as possible.

“Renault is pressing charges, and has filed for a civil action, in the case of organised fraud. It is confident that justice will be revealed, through the enquiry opened by the state prosecutor.”

An action plan put to the board by Mr Ghosn proposes to take disciplinary action against three employees in Renault’s security division.

As well, Mr Ghosn announced an overhaul of the security governance of Renault “based on an analysis of the internal shortcomings that have come to light”.

Surprisingly, two of the executives caught up in the false accusations, Mr Ghosn and Mr Pelata, were named on the three-person team to mastermind the governance changes.

More immediately, the Renault Group's security division will report directly to a member of the executive committee, while the senior managers' division will report directly to the senior vice-president of human resources to improve personal protection.

The scandal erupted in January when Renault announced it had suspended three group executives accused of espionage involving secret EV technologies.

Renault and its global partner Nissan are regarded as global leaders in EV technology, and rumours spread like wildfire that Chinese companies had been on the receiving end of the alleged leaks.

The Renault Zoe five-door hatch is set to go into production at the company’s Flins plant in France for a European launch in mid 2012.

The Clio-sized Zoe – revealed the 2010 Paris motor show – shares much of its technology with partner Nissan’s Leaf EV that is also being rolled out around the world, starting with trial programs in the US and Japan.

As well, Renault has plans for electric versions of the Fluence small car, Kangoo Express mini-van and an all-new urban two-seater called Twizy. The latter is expected to be one of the first electric Renaults to go on open sale, perhaps as early as mid 2011.

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