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Renault exec steps down after spy fiasco

Apr 11 2011 21:00 AFP

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Paris - Renault said on Monday its number two executive will be demoted while three others will be sacked in the wake of an industrial espionage fiasco at the French car-maker's electric vehicles programme.

Patrick Pelata's offer to resign as chief operating officer was accepted but he will stay within the company, the firm said in a statement, adding that three executives from the group's security service will leave.

Three other top executives will be relieved of their duties while their fate is decided, it said.

The announcement came after an extraordinary board meeting at Renault to study an audit committee's report on the scandal that saw three senior executives wrongfully accused of selling industrial secrets.

The meeting also agreed on a deal to compensate the executives falsely accused, Renault said.

The French government, which owns 15% of Renault, had said earlier on Monday that the executives responsible for the embarrassing debacle should be sacked.

Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said the audit report showed that the company's management style was "dysfunctional" and revealed the need for both a "revision of the governance rules and for sanctions".

Chief executive Carlos Ghosn went on prime-time television last month to apologise "personally and in Renault's name" for the affair, but said he had turned down an offer by Pelata to resign.

Ghosn said he and Pelata would forgo their 2010 bonuses and that Renault would review its security procedures and take disciplinary measures against three implicated security employees.

The French car giant in January sacked Michel Balthazard, Bertrand Rochette, and Matthieu Tenenbaum after accusing them of accepting bribes in return for leaking secrets about Renault's electric vehicle programme.

The government branded the affair "economic warfare" and some pointed the finger at China, drawing an angry denial from Beijing.

But in March the firm apologised to the managers after it emerged police had found no trace of bank accounts the accused men were alleged to have held and that the source of the spying allegations may have been a fraudster.

Investigators later questioned three Renault security managers and one was placed under formal investigation on suspicion of organised fraud.

Renault and its Japanese partner Nissan have staked their future on electric vehicles and plan to launch several models by 2014 to meet rapidly rising demand for more environmentally friendly methods of transport.

They have invested €4bn in the programme.

Nissan and Renault joined forces in 1999. Renault currently owns a 44.3 percent stake in its Japanese partner, while Nissan holds 15 percent of the French auto maker's shares.

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