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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Renault fires two accused of spying on electric car

Renault has formally sacked two of the men it has accused of espionage, their lawyers said at the weekend.

The two men - Michel Balthazard, formerly a member of the Renault management committee and a top official of the company's electric car program, and his subordinate, Bertrand Rochette - both received termination notices on Saturday, the lawyers said.

Mr Balthazard's lawyer, Xavier Thouvenin, said: ''The letter basically says: 'You received a substantial sum of money from a foreign source, leading us to the conviction that you have given what is probably strategic information in exchange.'

''The word 'conviction' is very important to me,'' Mr Thouvenin said. ''They're saying: 'We found out you have money, therefore you must have sold information.' But that's a long way from saying they have proof that he did something wrong.''

Renault made no comment.

A third man, Matthieu Tenenbaum, a former deputy director of Renault's electric vehicle program, has not received a letter, his lawyer, Thibault de Montbrial, said.

All three men have strongly proclaimed their innocence, and both Mr Thouvenin and Mr de Montbrial said their clients were planning to sue Renault for wrongful dismissal.

The three men were suspended on January 3, after an internal investigation revealed espionage aimed at the secrets of its electric vehicle program, according to Renault.

The company filed a criminal complaint on Thursday with Paris prosecutors alleging that it was the victim of ''organised industrial espionage, corruption, breach of trust, theft and concealment''. The complaint does not name the three men and asserts the involvement of a foreign company, which it does not identify.

Mr Balthazard's termination letter also ''clearly specifies'' that the investigation was begun on the basis of an anonymous letter, Mr Thouvenin said.

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