Renault is strenuously denying it told one of its sacked senior executives he could “keep the money and go” as the industrial espionage affair continues to grip France. 

Speculation has centred on Renault secrets being sold to foreign parties. The automaker has fired three executives, which it has refused to name. However, three individuals have voluntarily stepped into the media spotlight to protest their innocence.

The automaker has today (28 January) refuted claims of a conversation in which Mathieu Tenenbaum – believed to be deputy head of Renault’s electric vehicle programme and one of the three individuals to come forward – was allegedly told he could keep money.

Tenenbaum’s lawyer said he was told the executive could retain his ‘bribery’ if he resigned on the spot.

Renault said it did not want to comment on Montribal’s observations but added to just-auto from France: “It has been said our legal director had said to Tenenbaum ‘keep the money and go’ – “and he denied that. Our counsel never said that.”

However, Tenenbaum’s lawyer Maitre Thibault de Montbrial claimed his client was allegedly told he would apparently be allowed to retain any alleged cash in return for his immediate resignation, but the manufacturer denies any suggestion its sacked employee could keep the money and leave.

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Speculation has been rife in France that money has changed hands in exchange for the sale of electric car details, with reports of Swiss and Liechtenstein bank accounts being created.

“Renault said he could keep the money – he has not even understood that phrase,” Montbrial told just-auto today from Paris. “Renault was persuaded my client had an off-shore [account].

Montribal added Tenenbaum was apparently told: “We know what you did,” but that the phrase was not explained to him. The lawyer also said Tenenbaum had been told: “Resign right now, nobody will ever hear about it, you can keep your money, your bribery.”

Noting this “came out of the blue” for Tenenbaum, the lawyer at the Paris Bar said he guessed Renault tried to keep the story quiet, which he said explained why the manufacturer did not go to France’s secret service, the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Interieur (DCRI).

Montribal added it was normal for similar matters to be referred to the economic directorate of the DCRI in order “to defend the interests of the French economy.”

Expressing bafflement as to where any money would come from or the existence of foreign bank accounts, Montribal noted: “There is no money to keep because he has no bank account in Switzerland or Liechtenstein or anywhere.

“My client is very eager to be interviewed by the police and have all the details of his life…examined by the DCRI. All the accusations are groundless. My guess is Renault is misled and is also victim.”

The lawyer added “the very awkward thing” was that Renault had “not given one single material evidence” and that all the automaker had to go on were reports based on a “mysterious private eye.”

Tenenbaum’s legal team have filed for false accusation to the district attorney, with Montribal noting: “I am confident my client is innocent.”