April 29, 2011 – By Helen Massy-Beresford and Gilles Guillaume
PARIS (Reuters) - Renault sought to move on from an embarrassing botched spy probe, pledging on Friday to quickly find a new chief operating officer as it took a step toward firing a security executive at the heart of the investigation.
The group held a pre-dismissal hearing with a representative of the security executive accused of fraud in a case that sparked an industrial espionage probe, a spokesman said.
He was speaking on the sidelines of Renault's annual shareholders' meeting, at which it faced shareholders for the first time since the industrial spying-turned fraud fiasco that forced its chief operating officer Patrick Pelata to quit.
Renault fired three executives in January, saying its high-profile electric vehicle project had been targeted by an international spy network, but later had to admit it was tricked, the men did nothing wrong and there was no spying.
The former security manager, Dominique Gevrey, is in custody and is under investigation for fraud. Under French law, Renault has to wait 48 hours after the pre-dismissal hearing before it can fire him.
"The nominations and governance committee has begun the process of selecting and interviewing the people likely to take over the functions of chief operating officer of Renault," Marc Ladreit de Lacharriere told the meeting. He gave no indication of how long the process would take or who was in the running.
Renault said on Thursday it had finalized an agreement to compensate the three executives it wrongly fired. One of the three, Matthieu Tenenbaum, will rejoin the company on May 2, Renault said, while the other two have declined offers of reinstatement.
Renault Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn, who is also CEO of Renault's Japanese alliance partner Nissan Motor, told shareholders he was delighted an agreement had been reached.
Ghosn said disruption to Japan's auto supply chain from the earthquake and tsunami would not have a long-term impact.
"This crisis does not call into question our 2013 targets or our 2016 vision," he said. "This shortage (of some electronic components) will have a limited timespan until component factories get up and running again and other suppliers can take over."
The group set out a strategic plan in February that aimed to nearly double its operating margin to more than 5 percent of sales in 2013, as part of a growth plan that targets Brazil and Russia as key markets.
Renault on Tuesday said it would stick to its full-year goals as it posted a forecast-beating 15 percent rise in first-quarter sales.
(Editing by David Holmes)