In a new twist to an old corruption scandal that engulfed Renault two years ago, Maurice Lévy, head of Publicis Groupe, has been accused of bringing about the unfair dismissal of a senior marketing executive at the French car company.
To recap, three senior Renault executives were dismissed at the beginning of 2011 after they were accused – falsely it later turned out – of passing top-secret electric-car technology to the Chinese. At the same time Philippe Clogenson, director of customer marketing, was fired after he was found to have accepted corrupt payment from a supplier.
Later, Renault boss Carlos Ghosn was forced into an embarrassing climbdown and his second-in-command resigned after it emerged the allegations that had brought down all four executives were false.
Clogenson was subsequently reinstated and compensated for wrongful dismissal (as were the other three executives).
It now emerges that the man who accused him was none other than Lévy himself. That at least is the substance of a witness statement from Marc Tixador, a former policeman now himself the subject of an investigation, who was hired by Renault to conduct an internal inquiry into the allegations.
According to Tixador: “In May 2009, we were put onto the Philippe Clogenson case by his direct superior, Stephen Norman. He, in turn, had been tipped off by M.Lévy, boss of Publicis, that a Renault employee whose first name was “Philippe” and who, more specifically, was in charge of marketing, had been taking bribes from certain suppliers. Our internal inquiry and discussions with Publicis enabled us to establish that the suspect must have been Philippe Clogenson.”
Lévy has been quick to play down his own role. While not denying Tixador’s statement, he had this to tell the French national newspaper Libération: “Some information came my way, but no surname was mentioned. I purely and simply passed that information to Renault, with infinite precaution. I didn’t denounce M. Clogenson or anyone else. I didn’t know the surname and I didn’t try to find it out either. It was the internal security team at Renault who tracked it down and made the deduction.”
This, to say the least, is a lame mitigation of his conduct. As Libération sarcastically points out, the very mention of a Philippe working in marketing would have enormously simplified the task of the internal investigation. But the newspaper also casts doubt upon the authenticity of Lévy’s account. It says that Tixador’s colleague, an ex-military type called Dominique Gevrey (himself under investigation at one point), gave a much more explicit version of Lévy’s role: “Lévy telephoned Tixador directly, who put the speaker-phone on in my presence.” Lévy then (according to Libération’s account) proceeded to badmouth Clogenson (accablant Clogenson de tous les maux). Gevrey claimed that Norman played only a minor part in the investigation, passing on the information that he had been told Clogenson and a supplier were involved in financial irregularities – without at any point specifying who the source of these accusations was.
What remains to be unravelled is Lévy’s motive for tipping off the investigation team about Clogenson. Libération, which broke the story yesterday, speculates that it could have something to do with Clogenson giving business to digital agency Fullsix – a competitor to Publicis, which is the dominant Renault agency.