The only thing that’s missing is Kato, otherwise the seemingly hilarious but actually rather shocking ‘is it, isn’t it’ espionage debacle between Renault and the Chinese government has all the makings of a Pink Panther classic.

To recap, the first we knew about any of this particular story was when Renault fired three of its top men last year, each of whom had been involved at a high level with the company’s £3.8 billion programme to develop electric vehicles. The reason they were fired – Michel Balthazard, Bertrand Rochette and Matthieu Tenebaum – was because they’d apparently been caught divulging information to the Chinese about the EV project.

Or at least that’s what Renault thought they’d been up to at the time, having enlisted the services of a Clouseau-style private detective to (try to) find out exactly what was going on.

But it turns out that the terrible trio wasn’t so terrible after all. In fact, they’d done nothing wrong whatsoever. And a few months later, having publicly lambasted three of its senior engineers, Renault admitted as much and reached an undisclosed agreement with its three angered ex-employees.

Exactly how much Le Regie chuffed up remains a secret, but given that Balthazard hit the company with a damages claim of 3.2m euros, Rochette 3.4m and Tenebaum 2.4m, it’s fair to say that it will have been a substantial amount. And rightly so, Renault having got it so badly wrong and upset the lives of three good men in the process. 

But it doesn’t end there, not by a long chalk. It now appears that what might have happened is that Renault itself was the victim of an elaborate fraud, having parted with several hundred thousand euros to obtain information about the supposed espionage – paid to a source that doesn’t exist! The whole fiasco, in other words, might have been invented as a means of conning Renault into paying for information about a scandal that never actually occurred.

This, at least, is what state prosecutors currently seem to believe.

As Inspector Clouseau himself once said; “There is a time to laugh and a time not to laugh, and this is not one of them.”