Time to take a deep breath in Renault’s story of spooks, Swiss accounts and flights to West Africa.
Renault’s extraordinary board meeting this week must have been, well truly extraordinary. The Japanese members invited over – who presumably have more serious matters pressing back home – must have looked at the whole spy scandal with sheer incredulity.
As CEO, Renault’s Carlos Ghosn has finally become the public face that many have wanted – appearing on a slew of radio and television programmes to put the automaker’s side – not that there is much of one.
He’s a smooth operator, Ghosn. Utterly fluent in his impeccable French, the Brazilian boss did the only thing he could and held his hand up in the face of some pretty fierce inquisitors, who nontheless repeatedly asked if he would resign.
The Renault boss neatly sidestepped that difficult question though, sugaring his response instead by conceding he would not take his rather sizeable EUR1.6m (US$2.2m) bonus this year and forgo stock options for 2011.
Renault COO Patrick Pelata who did offer his resignation – only to have it turned down – was also given some lukewarm support by his boss who was asked whether the number two should step down. “I did not want to add a crisis to a crisis” was Ghosn’s rather less than ringing endorsement.
But the politicians who have wasted no time in laying the boot into Renault also appear to have stepped back from calling for Ghosn’s head – although they have laced their criticisms with some fairly strong language.
Take this from Budget Minister Francois Baroin, appearing on French TV station TF1, who slammed the “third division spying” case.
“If resignation is not the issue, we need to draw the conclusions of improbable amateurism,” he said. ” I find it unusual a huge business is rocked by amateurism…in a matter of third division spying.”
That comes on top of comments by Industry Minister Eric Besson – also a regular of Paris broadcasting studios – on the espionage affair:
“What Carlos Ghosn said was very important – it’s an indispensable step and he did well moreover, in declining a large part of his salary, but it’s not the end of the internal story,” was his contribution.
Just to add yet more spice to a story that each day has thrown up yet another utterly improbable twist, French daily Le Figaro citing satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine, says some of the money Renault paid to obtain information has been partially recovered in a Swiss account opened by one of its security officials.
This official, adds Le Figaro, is now being investigated for ‘organised fraud’ after being allegedly arrested at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris en route for Guinea in West Africa.
That little nugget reignites one of the central themes of the saga – namely the existence or not of supposed Swiss bank accounts – hotly contested by one of the sacked ‘three’ – Bertrand Rochette.t.
How long can Ghosn and Pelata weather the storm? And the lawyers haven’t even come up with a figure yet that will satisfy their clients’ appetite for massive compensation.