PARIS — Renault has formally fired two of the men it has accused of espionage, their lawyers said Saturday. 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 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.”
Caroline de Gezelle, a spokeswoman for Renault, said the company had 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 Jan. 3, after an internal investigation that Renault said revealed espionage aimed at the secrets of its electric vehicle program. The company filed a criminal complaint Thursday with Paris prosecutors alleging that it was the victim of “organized 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, which started in August, was begun on the basis of an anonymous letter, Mr. Thouvenin said.
Mr. Rochette’s lawyer, Christian Charrière-Bournazel, confirmed that his client had received a letter but did not discuss it further. While French officials have confirmed on background that investigators are following a lead related to China, they have publicly been at pains to say they are not accusing any particular country. The Chinese government has flatly denied any connection to the matter.
Renault and its Japanese affiliate Nissan are spending four billion euros to develop a full range of electric vehicles in a quest to establish industry leadership in the burgeoning technology. Patrick Pélata, Renault’s chief operating officer, said last week that some information on vehicle architecture, pricing and the business plan might have been leaked, but that no crucial technology had been passed outside the company.