May 19, 2024

Shake-Up at Renault Over ‘Chain of Failures’

In particular, the audits faulted “the supervision and control of the activities of the management of the company’s security department.”

The company said it had accepted the resignation of Patrick Pélata, the chief operating officer. It did not say when Mr. Pélata would leave or who would succeed him.

The shake-up was perhaps inevitable after the fiasco embarrassed both the company and President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government and led to a chilling of relations with Beijing after unfounded talk of a Chinese connection to the affair.

The French government, which owns about 15 percent of Renault’s stock, has long indicated its unhappiness with how the company has handled the case. Ministers were not informed of the supposed spying until months after the internal investigation began, and intelligence officials were not brought aboard until after the company had already suspended the three employees.

Éric Besson, the French industry minister, told the television station LCI on Monday that the audits had shown “areas of grave dysfunction within the company’s management.” Christine Lagarde, the finance minister, told France Inter radio that “if mistakes were made, then those who made them should go.”

But the buck stopped short of Carlos Ghosn, one of France’s best paid and most visible businessmen. Renault, along with its Japanese affiliate, Nissan Motor, is making a bid for leadership in the electric car market, and Mr. Ghosn is the chief executive of both companies. Mr. Besson hinted last month that Mr. Ghosn would be allowed to stay, saying it was important not to further destabilize the company at a critical time.

The board has “turned a painful page in the history of Renault,” Mr. Ghosn said in the carmaker’s statement on Monday, adding that the management overhaul was necessary “to restore confidence in the company.”

Even before the debacle, the work force at Renault’s Technocenter research facility was disgruntled. “We aren’t confronted here with simple failures limited to a few managers,” the Renault chapter of the Confédération Générale du Travail union said, “but rather managerial practices that extend throughout the enterprise.”

It added that “the departure of a certain number of executives” would not change anything “without an overhaul of the function and structure of management at every level.”

The affair started last August, when Renault executives received an anonymous letter denouncing certain employees as spies. After an internal investigation, the company in January fired three men it said had been caught trying to sell secrets related to its electric car program overseas.

Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Pélata proclaimed their certainty of the employees’ guilt in news media interviews, despite questions about the evidence and the three men’s protestations of innocence. The men — Michel Balthazard, Bertrand Rochette and Matthieu Tenenbaum — found themselves jobless and under media scrutiny.

But the case started to come apart as soon as French prosecutors and intelligence officials began a criminal investigation and were unable to find the Swiss and Liechtenstein bank accounts the men were said to have maintained.

Rather than signs of espionage, the authorities found evidence suggesting a scheme to defraud the company; Renault’s bill for the investigation came to about 700,000 euros, or $1 million, the Paris prosecutor said in March, and it is still unclear where that money went.

The French authorities are now investigating two men in connection with the apparent fraud: a Renault security official, Dominique Gevrey, and another man, a private investigator. Mr. Gevrey, his boss, Rémi Pagnie, and another security official, Marc Tixador, are all leaving the company, Renault said.

Also leaving as part of the shake-up are Christian Husson, the chief legal counsel; Jean-Yves Coudriou, the head of human resources; and Laurence Dors, the general secretary.

Renault also said Monday that it had reached “an agreement in principle” with the three men regarding compensation for their wrongful dismissal, subject to final approval. The company did not say what the payout would be, but the French news media have reported that 11 million euros, or $15.9 million, would be split among the three. A Renault spokeswoman, Caroline de Gézelle, declined to comment on the amount.

Renault also said it had reached an agreement with another former executive, Philippe Clogenson, who left in 2009 after being accused of receiving bribes from suppliers. Mr. Clogenson will return to Renault in a consulting capacity, the company said.

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