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Cath Everett

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HR department pays price of false accusations at Renault

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Heads have rolled at Renault following an HR failure that led to three employees being sacked after being falsely accused of industrial espionage.
 

Patrick Pelata, the French carmaker’s chief operating officer, has stepped down, although he will remain with the firm, while Jean-Yves Coudreau, the HR manager responsible for senior executives, legal director Christian Husson and company secretary Laurence Dors have all been suspended.
 
Three members of the internal security team, including its boss Remi Pagnie, have also left and the resulting reorganisation will see HR director Marie-Francoise Damesin promoted to the executive committee, reporting directly to chief executive Carlos Ghosn.
 
The move follows an independent internal investigation into the theft of electric car technology, which was started last year following an anonymous tip-off that three Renault managers – head of projects Betrand Rochette, vice chair of pre-engineering Michel Balthazard and deputy head of electric vehicles Matthieu Tenenbaum – were passing secrets to international rivals in the Far East.
 
The source claimed to have evidence that the executives were having paid money into Swiss bank accounts and was given more than £250,000 for information. Renault sacked the three managers concerned and made public complaints about industrial espionage, which were subsequently investigated by the French authorities.
 
The managers initially faced criminal charges, although prosecutors dropped their law suit last month, saying there was no case to answer. Renault subsequently admitted that the evidence on which the claims were based was false, while the internal audit revealed a “dysfunction” in the company’s disciplinary procedures.
 
“The very succinct notes reflecting the results of the investigation were not subjected to a truly critical review by the persons mainly responsible for the suspensions and later for the terminations. Decisions were made informally by only a few individuals, without any organised two-party consultation with experts in risk management, law and HR,” the report said.
 
The carmaker has agreed in principle to pay Rochette E3.4 million, Balthazard E3.2 million and Tenenbaum E2.4 million in damages. The French authorities are still continuing to investigate two men on suspicion of organised fraud, however, including one who is a former member of the carmakers’ internal security team.

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