The espionage turned fraud scandal that has dogged Renault for months took a new turn on Tuesday as French media aired secret recordings of one of the automaker's executives begging its former security boss to help it get out of this mess.
Help us to get out of this mess in one piece, Renault's general counsel and compliance officer Christian Husson said to Dominique Gevrey, the ex-security manager now accused of fraud in the case, in secret recordings of the meeting released by magazine L'Express and France 2 television.
The meeting between Husson, Gevrey and the company's lawyer Jean Reinhart, took place on February 14, when Renault still believed it was a victim of industrial spying. The automaker was eventually forced to apologize to and promise to compensate the three men it had accused and fired in the case.
We don't live in the world of the police, we live in a world of management, an internationally-listed company. So we're in a mess. Help us get out of it, Husson went on.
Gevrey for his part assured the others that he had a written report containing information about his supposed source, but that it was not in his office, but in Brussels.
From the start, I've said, 'be careful !' What we have won't stand up in a court, he adds in the recording.
Renault said it was shocking that such a recording, which it said was made by Gevrey without the others' knowledge, should be made public.
Renault had submitted the minutes of the meeting, which was called to make Gevrey reveal his source and cooperate with the police, to the authorities, it said in an emailed statement.
Reinhart told Reuters on Wednesday the conversation had planted the first seeds of doubt about Gevrey.
We came out of the meeting and we said to ourselves, 'this guy is taking us for a ride,'. We could no longer exclude the possibility of fraud, he said.
Investors shrugged off the revelations and bid up the automaker's shares 2.4 percent, making it the day's top gainer among European car companies. So far this year, though, Renault's shares are the sector's biggest decliners.
French industry minister Eric Besson has said he is against destabilizing the company in the face of questions over whether Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn, who is also head of alliance partner Nissan Motor, should keep his job after the scandal.
Ghosn and Chief Operating Officer Patrick Pelata said they would forgo their 2010 bonuses because of the affair, which has embarrassed the company and the government -- Renault is 15 percent state-owned.
Pelata tendered his resignation earlier this month but Ghosn refused to accept it.
In a related development, police on Monday interviewed as a witness a Belgian man named by Gevrey as his source, who said he had never passed any information to Gevrey, website Mediapart reported.
An independent magistrate is trying to determine if other people were involved in the affair and to find the money Renault paid, part of which is in Swiss bank accounts belonging to Gevrey.
Michel Luc, an employee of a private security company, was also placed under investigation last week after serving as an intermediary to help Gervey organize what he said was the paying of his source. Luc has been released on bail.
(Writing by Helen Massy-Beresford; Editing by Greg Mahlich)