French intelligence services are looking into China’s possible role in an industrial espionage scandal at carmaker Renault that a senior minister has said involved “economic warfare,” a government source told Reuters.
Three Renault executives, including one member of its management committee, were suspended Monday in the case, which has prompted the French government to warn of an “overall risk” to French industry.
The executives are suspected of leaking information related to the high-profile electric vehicle program, a key plank of the carmaker’s strategy in which, together with its Japanese partner Nissan, it is investing billions of euros.
The government source said French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office had ordered the investigation. Renault, which declined to comment, is 15 percent owned by the French state.
“The Elysee has charged the DCRI (intelligence services) with an investigation. It is following a Chinese lead,” the source said.
Relations between France and China hit a low roughly two years ago when Sarkozy criticized Beijing’s policy on Tibet, prompting Chinese citizens to call for boycotts of French products.
But a recent visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to Paris helped forge closer ties, as France seeks to secure Chinese support for its ambitious G20 agenda to explore reforms of the global monetary system.