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China denies link to Renault spy ring

China has denied involvement in the Renault spying scandal, and France officially does not want to point the finger. But media reports are surfacing of payments made to top managers by Chinese firms.

Renault logo

Renault has suspended three managers over spying suspicions

China has denied any involvement in an industrial espionage scandal that has erupted at French car maker Renault.

"As for this so-called story that China is involved, we believe this is totally groundless, irresponsible and unacceptable," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters.

He was responding to rumors that three managers at Renault were supplying details on the electric car program to China. A government source said last week that French intelligence services were investigating a possible Chinese connection with the Renault case.

French newspaper Le Figaro has reported that a Chinese firm had paid undisclosed sums into Swiss and Liechtenstein bank accounts opened by two Renault executives implicated in the inquiry.

Le Figaro, which did not identify its sources, reported on its website late Monday that the payments were discovered by private investigators hired by Renault.

The investigators uncovered a Swiss account containing 500,000 euros ($ 646,000) and another in Liechtenstein with 130,000 euros.

It said the money had been paid in by a Chinese power company.

No official finger-pointing

Renault electric car, Elektro IAA

Renault's electric car program was the target of the spying

Renault made no comment to Le Figaro on its story, but in comments to Le Monde newspaper at the weekend, the company's number two, chief operating officer Patrick Pelata, spoke in terms of an "organized international network."

Officially, the French government and Renault have said that they're not pointing the finger at any particular country.

"There is no official accusation by France and the French government toward any country today. An enquiry is under way," government spokesman Francois Baroin told Europe 1 radio, adding: "Renault, like others, is the victim of a war of economic intelligence."

Renault said it had suspended three top managers last week over suspicions they had leaked strategic information. Renault may fire the executives on Tuesday, unions told the news agency AFP, since the fresh allegations over the affair appeared in the media.

Union leaders, who asked not to be named, told AFP that the three had been summoned to meetings with Renault bosses on Tuesday afternoon and would be accompanied by union representatives.

Author: Natalia Dannenberg (AFP, AP, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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