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China Denies Role in Renault Espionage Scandal

View of the Renault headquarters in Boulogne-Billancourt, near Paris Jan 11, 2011.

View of the Renault headquarters in Boulogne-Billancourt, near Paris Jan 11, 2011.

China is calling allegations it obtained stolen information about French electric cars "baseless and irresponsible."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei denied any Chinese involvement in the unfolding industrial espionage scandal related to the French automaker Renault, telling reporters in Beijing Tuesday any allegations are unacceptable.

Renault has suspended three top managers over suspicions that they leaked strategic information about electric car technology. Unnamed French officials have been quoted as saying China may be involved.

The French government is trying to downplay concerns.

Spokesman Francois Baroin told Europe 1 radio Tuesday that France wants to protect Renault, which he said was a victim in an economic war. But he also said no country is being accused.

A French newspaper, Le Figaro, reported Monday that a Chinese company deposited funds into Swiss and Liechtenstein bank accounts opened by two of the managers. Le Figaro said private investigators discovered almost three quarters of a million dollars in the two accounts. The newspaper did not identify its sources.

One of the suspended executives, Michel Balthazard, told reporters Tuesday he was completely surprised by the allegations against him and denied any wrongdoing.

The allegations come as France, like other European countries, has been actively courting Chinese trade and investment.

Paris and Beijing have had rocky relations over the years, with tensions flaring over human rights issues and Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.