French government ministers are warning of the consequences of "industrial espionage" as the fallout from the suspension of three senior Renault executives continues to gather pace.

Newly-appointed industry minister Eric Besson - who assumed office in November - made his comments - that pointed to electric vehicles as the source of the affair - to French radio station RTL following the suspensions that in Renault's words "are deliberately endangering the company's assets."

Although Renault preferred this morning (7 January) to distance itself from "industrial espionage" language, Besson apparently had no such qualms, while also referring to "economic war."

"The one thing I can say, is the matter appears serious, that it illustrates once more the risks for our businesses in industrial espionage matters, in economic intelligence matters," he said to RTL, whose transcript was sent to just-auto by the French Industry Ministry.

"That is why I have asked Bercy [Finance Ministry] that the State reinforces businesses' obligations which ask for State money - and you know we are devoting a lot there in terms of innovation.

"So, at this stage, the only thing I can say, is that yes, unfortunately, the matter seems serious."

Ironically, Besson visited Renault's Guyancourt Technocentre near Paris on Monday (4 January). Guyancourt houses vehicle design specialists involved in research, design, product and vehicle projects, although the Minister highlighted electric vehicles as a potential ingredient in the mix.

"It appears that it concerns electric vehicles," he said. "But I don't want to go further, there is a presumption of innocence in France and there are procedures to respect."

Asked whether the situation was a danger to Renault, Besson widened the debate to French industry in general.

"It's a global danger for French business, the expression 'economic war,' sometimes outrageous is adapted, [it is] something against which we have to be on guard in the future, yes clearly."

Both Renault and Peugeot received EUR3bn (US$3.9bn) each in aid from the French State to allow them to weather the economic crisis.

However, Renault announced in June it would repay EUR500m by the end of last year as market conditions improved.