What appeared to be a major case of China espionage may actually be nothing more than what some are now describing as a “malevolent hoax,” the result of angry office politics at French automaker Renault.
An investigation by the French equivalent of the FBI has found no evidence that Renault employees were on the payroll of Chinese spymasters. The report that could prove seriously embarrassing to both the maker and its outspoken CEO Carlos Ghosn, whose career could now be in jeopardy, according to some observers.
The incident made headlines, last October, when a Renault committee received an anonymous “ethical alert” indicating three of its employees might have been getting cash for leaking details of the maker’s aggressive electric vehicle program to foreign interests. Renault – along with Japanese alliance partner Nissan – is launching an array of battery vehicles and planning to expand production to more than 500,000 vehicles a year by mid-decade.
On January 3rd, the French maker suspended three executives, one of whom sat on its management committee. The maker also said it would take legal action, which French government officials feared might set off an economic war with China.