The suspensions of three top Renault execs over corporate espionage this week were just the first public hint that something could be seriously wrong inside the French automaker's electric vehicle program. The details are not yet known, but the case has been called the biggest industrial espionage investigation in Renault's history. French industry manager Eric Besson issued a statement saying France is facing an "economic war" over the electric car technology leaks, according to the Guardian. Besson said the term is "often outrageous, [but] is for once appropriate here."

So, who stole what from whom? We're not sure, but the three suspected executives have been named by the European press: Michel Balthazard, described as a "senior member of the management committee for 30 years, who had access to highly sensitive material about Renault's cars of the future"; Bertrand Rochette; and Matthieu Tenenbaum. Following an investigation that has been going on since August, Renault has stated that the three, "have committed misconduct that infringes Renault's ethics, consciously and deliberately endangering the company's assets." Le Monde said the information stolen concerned the automaker's electric vehicle batteries and propulsion system.

The execs might have been spying for a Chinese company, since the French intelligence service, DCRI, is "investigating a possible link with China," according to Automotive News (sub. req.). Thanks to David M. for the tip!

[Source: Guardian, Automotive News – sub. req. | Image: Sascha Schueurmann/AFP/Getty Images]

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