Was The Renault Spy Scare A Scam?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
was the renault spy scare a scam

Within days of breaking, the Renault Spy Scandal has been in “ full reverse,” and now it seems the story is becoming even more embarrassing than we had even imagined. The last time we looked at the case, Bertel forwarded two possible theories for the “farce”: either Nissan-Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn wanted a distraction from a soft Nissan Leaf EV launch, or someone inside the company wanted to sabotage Ghosn. Now a new theory takes the farce to nearly unimaginable levels…

According to the NYT

Renault’s own security officials, who — with the aid of a contact in Algeria — carried out the company’s internal investigation after the men were anonymously denounced, have refused to divulge to either French intelligence or the company their source for the account data.

Le Canard Enchaîné, a French satirical weekly, reported Wednesday that the company had paid that source €250,000, or about $345,000, for the initial information, a fact confirmed by the company. Renault said it did not know whom the funds were intended for.

Xavier Thouvenin, a lawyer for one of the accused men, said the latest revelations suggested Renault had fallen for a con artist who played on the company’s fears. “Whoever was behind it got a little greedy,” Mr. Thouvenin said. “He went after three guys who didn’t just lie down. They said, ‘We’re going to fight this till the end; we’re innocent.”’

And Mr Thouvenin has good reason for optimism: though Renault now admits it paid for the information which led to the suspension of its three executives, it has yet to uncover the bank accounts in Switzerland and Lichtenstein it alleges were used to pay the accused spies. Renault spokesfolks are already implying that, pending the results of an investigation which should wrap this month, the accused executives might even be “re-integrated” into the company. That spells trouble for Patrick Pélata, Ghosn’s number two at Renault and the firm’s highest-ranking Frenchman, who has said he would leave if the accused spies were found innocent. And, argues the FT’s Paul Betts, it could be a lesson for CEOs like Carlos Ghosn and Sergio Marchionne, who run alliances of multiple global automakers.

Mr Pélata has already indicated that he is prepared to take the consequences and step down if the alleged corporate espionage saga turns out to be unfounded and the three suspected executives are cleared. But should the buck stop there? After all, Mr Ghosn has said he was kept appraised of every step of the investigations and appeared on primetime French television saying the company had “multiple” proof of being the target of espionage.

Could it not be that the company’s overhasty judgments stem from fundamental flaws in its own management? With a chief executive present 50 per cent or less of the time and with the ultimate say on the day-to-day working of the group, just how much freedom did Mr Pélata have in creating a healthy governance for Renault?

Mr Ghosn says he is an exceptional manager and can run two companies at opposite ends of the globe at the same time. But this latest farce-like, hugely embarrassing and potentially tragic episode seems to show he can’t. Perhaps Mr Ghosn should think seriously about giving up one or other of his jobs, devoting either his entire time to Renault in its moment of need or to Nissan.

There is also a lesson in all this for Fiat’s Sergio Marchionne. Like Mr Ghosn, he too seems to think he can run two companies at the same time – his Italian car group as well as Chrysler.

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  • Ronman Ronman on Mar 11, 2011

    Haha Wall street. but seriously now. This is Effing Big... and i wouldnt want to be in Ghosn's shoes at the moment, or any of his entourage's shoes, as he is not someone you would want to be next to in times of global embarrassment i presume. if it gets to the point where he has to give up one of the two, i imagine it would be better to give up both. the espionage issue is a Renault issue, so he woudl have lost trust of the other managers there, hence he would need to make way, and Nissan, as proud and Japanese as they are would not like to be headed by someone who has been Dupped on a monumental level, hence he will be asked to give up his lead there as well... despite the fact that he turned the company around and is a local hero... Success does not last long, and after reading a lot about Carlos Ghosn I imagine that he is a specialist in making good of a bad situation, but once the going gets going, he kid of looses his footing, as he has no pressure to push him to perform and make decisions in an effective manner... Perhaps it's wise of him to step down, keep his shares and move on to another troubled company...perhaps assist Sergio in making Alfa and the entire Fiatsler gig a success.

  • Rod Panhard Rod Panhard on Mar 11, 2011

    Has anyone ever seen Mr. Bean and Mr. Ghosn in the same room at the same time? I didn't think so.

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