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Renault prepared for suicides in "spygate" scandal

By Laurence Frost

PARIS (Reuters) - French carmaker Renault , which brought scandal upon itself by falsely accusing executives of spying, had prepared draft statements in case they killed themselves, it emerged on Friday.

The documents, published by Le Parisien and authenticated by the company, were drawn up as the scandal unfolded last year, after a flawed internal probe led to the dismissal of three senior employees - later cleared by a police investigation.

In the draft press releases, which were never used, the company expresses sympathy and shock over a hypothetical suicide, with blanks left for the name of the deceased.

"The entire company is profoundly shaken by the seriousness of this act," reads one of the draft texts. "Our thoughts are with the family of Mr. XXX."

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

Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn was eventually forced into an embarrassing climb-down after it emerged that at least four employees had been fired over false claims that they had received bribes or sold secrets. None committed suicide.

Two former Renault security officials have since been charged with fraud following revelations that the company had paid large cash sums for what it thought was reliable information on money transfers from an anonymous source.

More than 18 months on, the case has shown it can still have repercussions for carmaker and senior French figures. The former communications chief who ordered up the suicide statements is now Ghosn's chief of staff.

Patrick Pelata, who had stepped down as his no.2 during the scandal with a view to taking on another senior role, ended up leaving the company in July of this year.

Maurice Levy, chief executive of French advertiser Publicis , confirmed reports the following month that he had unwittingly passed on false information leading to one of the wrongful dismissals at Renault.

(Reporting by Laurence Frost; Editing by Christian Plumb)

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