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France

Renault prepared for staff suicides over spying scandal

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-10-13

More than a year after French carmaker Renault found itself embroiled in an industrial espionage scandal, new documents show that the company had prepared statements in the event that the three employees blamed in the case committed suicide.

More than one year ago, French carmaker Renault found itself embroiled in a high-profile industrial espionage scandal. Three executives were fired, but the case turned out to be bogus, and in a desperate attempt to put the whole sordid affair behind them, the company issued a public apology to its former employees.

It appears, however, that the story is far from over. New documents have emerged showing that Renault had prepared statements in the event that the scandal drove the three employees concerned to kill themselves.

Executives Michel Balthazard, Bertrand Rochette and Mathieu Tenenbaum were dismissed from Renault in January of last year on suspicions that they had leaked information on the company’s electric cars to rivals. Although wrongly accused, the three found themselves at the heart of a very public scandal, with little recourse to defend themselves.

Apparently aware of the possible consequences, Renault’s communications director took action. Two statements were prepared in the event of the “inevitable” – one for a botched suicide attempt, the other for a successful one.

Strain on executives

The documents, which French radio station France Info published on their website Friday, showed that Renault was not only fully aware that the strain of the situation might drive its employees to suicide, but also its apparent acceptance of what it saw as a certainty.

Written in dry, clinical terms, the two statements varied little in their content. The first, which was to be issued in the event of “option 1”, in other words a failed suicide attempt, read: “One of the three executives laid off on January 3, 2011, attempted to end his life on (date).”

The second, or “option 2”, was only slightly modified: “One of the three executives laid off on January 3, 2011, ended his life on (date).”

The statement then went on to convey the company’s regret over the tragic incident.

“The entire company has been deeply shaken by the gravity of what has happened… Ever since the beginning of the case, Renault has sought to protect its executives’ identities out of strict respect for those concerned. Faced with this upsetting event, we intend to maintain our position and make no comment…”

In the event of an actual death, an additional line was to be added, saying “our thoughts are with Mr. XXX’s family”.

All that was left to do was fill in the appropriate blanks.

A company spokeswoman said on Friday that Renault communications staff who prepared the press releases were simply doing their job. "We had to prepare for different scenarios within a crisis communications framework."

Date created : 2012-10-12

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