French intelligence services are investigating a possible Chinese connection into suspected industrial espionage involving Renault's flagship electric cars program.
France's 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 authorized 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 program, a key plank of the carmaker's strategy in which, together with its Japanese partner Nissan, it is investing billions of euros.
Battery technology said to be targeted
Le Point news magazine reported on its Web site, citing sources, that the espionage targeted battery technology which had not yet been patented.
Renault, which declined to comment, is 15 percent owned by the French state.
"The DCRI (intelligence service) is working on this case. It is in contact with Renault," said a French government source on Friday, adding the China connection was a possibility being explored but not for now in any way substantiated.
Renault warned on Thursday that the automaker's strategic assets were at risk in suspected espionage involving the electric vehicle program.
The highest ranking of the three suspended executives is Michel Balthazard, vice president for advance engineering and a member of the management committee, two people with knowledge of the matter told Bloomberg News.
In a report on Thursday, the Financial Times Deutschland named the other two executives as Bertrand Rochette and Matthieu Tenenbaum. The report said all three executives work on important development projects at Renault's Technocentre in Guyancourt near Paris.