Renault agent arrested, accused of fake spy claim

The Associated Press
Monday, March 14, 2011; 4:51 PM

PARIS -- A security agent for Renault has been charged with fraud and accused of inventing industrial espionage claims that led the French carmaker to wrongly suspect - and suspend - three executives, the state prosecutor said Monday.

The cloak-and-dagger affair, in the public eye since January, was deeply embarrassing for France's second biggest carmaker, which announced that all executives involved, including president Carlos Ghosn and chief operating officer Patrick Pelata, would forego all stock option benefits for 2011 and the "variable portion" of their 2010 earnings.

At an extraordinary board meeting late Monday, Ghosn also refused Pelata's tendered resignation, a company statement said.

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 Sunday against Dominique Gevrey, once employed by the Defense Ministry intelligence service and now a member of Renault's security service, prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin told reporters Monday.

Gevrey had been detained Friday at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport as he prepared to board a flight for Guinea, and has since been jailed.

"Renault is perhaps not a victim of indelicate employees but of fraud," Marin told reporters.

He said foreign accounts that were alleged to have been held by the three executives, notably in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, do not exist.

Renault quickly sent a deep apology to the wrongly accused employees and said after the board meeting that the carmaker would propose returning them to their jobs or providing an indemnity.

The company also said its sector concerning protection of the group, information and personnel will be fully revised.

Ghosn, and Pelata "acknowledge the serious personal harm that they (the employees) and their families have suffered," an initial company statement said, adding that "reparations (will) be made" and "their honor in the public eye (will) be restored."

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