French carmaker Renault is victim of an organised international network, but no critically important information related to its electric car programme has been leaked, a top executive said.
Three Renault executives, including one member of its management committee, were suspended on Monday over the leaking of data, which prompted the government to warn of a widespread risk to French industry.
In an interview with Le Monde newspaper's weekend edition, Chief Operating Officer Patrick Pelata said information may have been leaked regarding the costs and economic model of the programme.
"This is the work of professionals," Pelata said. "Renault is the victim of an organised international network."
French intelligence services are investigating a possible Chinese connection to the espionage claims. Industry Minister Eric Besson, who spoke earlier this week of a case that smacked of "economic warfare", said no official inquiry had been opened and this would happen only if the carmaker lodged a formal complaint.
Asked about the possible Chinese lead, Besson said: "I am not authorised to say anything at all on the subject."
Three Renault executives, including one member of its management committee, were suspended on Monday in the case, which has prompted the French government to warn of a widespread risk to French industry.
The executives are suspected of leaking information related to the high-profile electric vehicle programme, a key plank of the carmaker's strategy in which, together with its Japanese partner Nissan, it is investing billions of euros.
Le Point news magazine reported on its website, citing sources, that the espionage targeted battery technology which had not yet been patented.
Renault, which declined to comment, is 15 per cent owned by the French state. None of the executives has a high profile among investors or in the media.
"The DCRI (intelligence service) is working on this case. It is in contact with Renault," said the government source, adding the China connection was a possibility being explored but not for now in any way substantiated.
Relations between France and China hit a low two years ago when French President Nicolas Sarkozy criticised Beijing's policy on Tibet.
But a visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to Paris late last year helped forge closer ties as France seeks to secure Chinese support for reform of the global monetary system under its presidency of the Group of 20 club of economic powers.