UPDATE 1-Renault COO has reasons to doubt spying-newspaper

* Renault COO says company has reasons for doubt-Le Figaro

* Says would reinstate execs if no espionage took place
(Adds Renault COO)

By Helen Massy-Beresford

PARIS, March 3 (Reuters) – Renault (RENA.PA: Quote, Profile, Research) said for the
first time on Thursday that it had some reasons for thinking it
may have been tricked into believing it had been a victim of
industrial espionage, according to a newspaper report.

“A certain number of elements lead us to doubt,” Renault’s
Chief Operating Officer Patrick Pelata was quoted as saying in
an interview published by French newspaper Le Figaro on its
website.

A spokesperson for Renault told Reuters that the quotes
attributed to Pelata in the article were accurate.

Renault fired three executives and lodged a legal complaint
in January over suspicions of industrial espionage targeting
its high-profile electric vehicle programme, amid fears that
information had been passed to a foreign power.
[ID:nLDE70D27X]

Renault’s lawyer had said earlier on Thursday that French
intelligence services were still probing the existence of bank
accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein as part of the
inquiry and dismissed reports that the French carmaker had been
tricked.

The existence of the possible accounts is a key part of the
case against the three men, all of whom have said they have
done nothing wrong and are taking legal action against
Renault.

In the newspaper interview, Pelata was quoted as saying
that Renault had arrived at “two hypotheses.”

“Either we are confronted with a case of espionage and a
senior security executive is protecting his source despite
everything. Or Renault is the victim of a manipulation, which
we don’t know the nature of but which could be a fraud.”

“In this case, if all the doubts are lifted, we will
propose the reinstatement of the three executives and, in any
case, Renault will be very careful to make good any injustice,”
he was quoted as saying in the newspaper article.

Pelata said that in either case, “the company is a
victim.”

In the interview, Pelata went on to say, “When the inquiry
is finished, we will accept all the consequences up to the
highest level of the company, that is to say up to myself.”
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Reports Renault had been tricked or manipulated surfaced
after Pelata was received by Prime Minister Francois Fillon to
discuss the case this week.

Jean Reinhart, the French carmaker’s lawyer, had earlier
told French radio that it was too early to say that espionage
had not taken place.

“Nothing has come back to us for the moment, which means
that this morning we are unable to say whether we have been
manipulated or not,” he said.

The case threatened to spark a diplomatic spat when news of
the sackings broke in January, after a government source said
investigators were following up a possible link with China in
initial probes before a formal inquiry was launched.

Renault and the government both played down the China
talk.

The scandal also strained relations between Renault, which
is 15 percent state-owned, and the government, as the carmaker
came under fire for not informing authorities of its suspicions
soon enough and carrying out its own investigation first.
(Additional reporting by Gilles Guillaume and Daniel Flynn;
Editing by David Holmes)